A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway Series #4)

A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway Series #4)

by Elly Griffiths, Emma Thawley


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“Rich in atmosphere and history and blessed by [Griffith’s] continuing development of brilliant, feisty, independent Ruth . . . A Room Full of Bones, like its predecessors, works its magic on the reader's imagination.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

When Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop, she finds the museum’s curator lying dead on the floor. Soon after, the museum’s wealthy owner is also found dead, in his stables.

These two deaths could be from natural causes, but once again Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson cross paths during the investigation. When threatening letters come to light, events take an even more sinister turn. But as Ruth’s friends become involved, where will her loyalties lie? As her convictions are tested, Ruth and Nelson must discover how Aboriginal skulls, drug smuggling, and the mystery of “The Dreaming” hold the answers to these deaths, as well as the keys to their own survival.

“Lovers of well-written and intelligent traditional mysteries will welcome [Griffith’s] fourth book . . . A Room Full of Bones is a clever blend of history and mystery with more than enough forensic details to attract the more attentive reader.” —Denver Post

"Galloway is an Everywoman, smart, successful and a little bit unsure of herself. Readers will look forward to learning more about her." —USA Today

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544001121
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/14/2013
Series: Ruth Galloway Series , #4
Pages: 346
Sales rank: 116,021
Product dimensions: 7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

ELLY GRIFFITH’s Ruth Galloway novels have been praised as “gripping” (Louise Penny), “highly atmospheric” (New York Times Book Review) and “entrancing from start to finish” (Kirkus Reviews). She has won a Mary Higgins Clark award and has been longlisted for a Dagger Award.

Read an Excerpt


31 October 2009 

The coffin is definitely a health and safety hazard. It fills the entrance hall, impeding the view of the stuffed Auk, a map of King’s Lynn in the 1800s and a rather dirty oil painting of Lord Percival Smith, the founder of the museum. The coffin’s wooden sides are swollen and rotten and look likely to disgorge their contents in a singularly gruesome manner. Any visitors would find its presence unhelpful, not to say distressing. But today, as on most days, there are no visitors to the Smith Museum. The curator, Neil Topham, stands alone at the far end of the hall looking rather helplessly at the ominously shaped box on the floor. The two policemen who have carried it this far look disinclined to go further. They stand, sweating and mutinous in their protective clothing, under the dusty chandelier donated by Lady Caroline Smith (1884–1960).
   ‘You can’t leave it here,’ says Neil.
   ‘We were told “take it to the Smith museum,”’ says the younger of the two men, PC Roy ‘Rocky’ Taylor
   ‘But you can’t just leave it in the hall,’ protests Neil. ‘I want it in the Local History Room.’  
   ‘Is that upstairs?’ asks the older man, Sergeant Tom Henty.
   ‘Good, because we don’t do upstairs. Our union won’t allow it.’
   Neil doesn’t know if they are joking or not. Do policemen have unions? But he stands aside as the two men shoulder their burden again and carry it, watched by myriad glass eyes, through the Natural History Room and into a smaller room decorated with a mural of Norfolk Through The Ages. There is a trestle table waiting in the centre of the room and, on this, the policemen lower the coffin.
   ‘It’s all yours,’ says Taylor, breathing heavily.
   ‘But don’t open it, mind,’ warns Henty. ‘Not until the Big Guns get here.’
   ‘I won’t,’ says Neil, although he looks with fascination, almost hunger, at the box, whose cracked lid offers a coy glimpse of the horrors within.
   ‘Superintendent Whitcliffe’s on his way.’
   ‘Is the boss coming?’ asks Taylor. Whitcliffe may be the most senior policeman in Norfolk, but for Taylor and others like him the boss will always be Detective Inspector Harry Nelson.
    ‘Nah,’ says Henty. ‘Not his type of thing, is it? There’ll be journalists, the works. You know how the boss hates journos.’
   ‘Someone’s coming from the university,’ puts in Neil.
    ‘Doctor Ruth Galloway, head of Forensic Archaeology. She’s going to supervise the opening.’
   ‘I’ve met her,’ says Henty. ‘She knows her stuff.’
   ‘It’s very exciting,’ says Neil. Again he gives the coffin a furtive, almost greedy, look.
    ‘I’ll take your word for it,’ says Henty. ‘Come on, Rocky. Back to work. No peace for the wicked.’ 

Doctor Ruth Galloway, Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk, is not thinking about coffins or journalists or even about whether she will encounter DCI Harry Nelson at the Smith Museum. Instead, she is racing through the King’s Lynn branch of Somerfield wondering whether chocolate fingers count as bad mothering and how much wine four mothers and assorted partners can be expected to drink. Tomorrow is Ruth’s daughter’s first birthday and, much against Ruth’s better judgement, she has been persuaded to have a party for her. ‘But she won’t remember it,’ Ruth wailed to her best friend Shona, herself five months pregnant and glowing with impending maternity. ‘You will though,’ said Shona. ‘It’ll be a lovely occasion. Kate’s first birthday. Having a cake, opening her presents, playing with all her little friends.’
    ‘Kate doesn’t play with her friends,’ Ruth had protested. ‘She hits them over the head with stickle bricks mostly.’ But she had allowed herself to be convinced. And part of her does think that it will be a lovely occasion, a rare chance for her to sit back and watch Kate tearing off wrapping paper and shoving E-numbers in her mouth and think: I haven’t done such a bad job of being a mother, after all.
   As Ruth races past the soft drinks aisle, she becomes aware for the first time that the supermarket has been taken over by the forces of darkness. Broomsticks and cauldrons jostle for shelf space with plastic pumpkins and glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs. Bats hang from the ceiling and, as Ruth rounds the last bend, she comes face to face with a life-size figure wearing a witch’s cloak and hat and a mask – based (rather convincingly, it must be said) on Munch’s The Scream. Ruth stifles her own scream. Of course, it’s Halloween. Kate only just escaped being born on 31 October, which, when combined with having a Pagan godfather, might have been one augury too far. Instead, her daughter was born on 1 November, All Saints’ Day according to a Catholic priest who, to Ruth’s surprise, is almost a friend. Ruth doesn’t believe in God or the Devil but, she reflects, as she piles her shopping onto the conveyor belt, it’s always useful to have a few saints on your side. Funny how the Day of the Dead is followed by the Day of the Saints. Or maybe not so funny. What are saints, after all, if not dead people? And Ruth knows to her cost that the path between saint and sinner is not always well defined.
    She packs her shopping into her trusty, rusty car. Two o’clock. She has to be at the museum at three so there’s not enough time to go home first. She hopes the chocolate fingers won’t melt in the boot. Still, the day, though mild for October, is not exactly hot. Ruth is wearing black trousers and a black jacket. She winds a long green scarf round her neck and hopes for the best. She knows there’ll be photographers at the museum, but with any luck she can hide behind Superintendent Whitcliffe. She’d never normally get to go to an event like this. Her boss, Phil, adores the limelight so is always first in line for anything involving the press. Two years ago, when Time Team came to a nearby Roman dig, Phil muscled his way in front of the cameras while Ruth lurked in a trench. ‘It wasn’t fair,’ said Shona who, despite being in a relationship with Phil, knows his faults. ‘You were the expert, not him.’ But Ruth hadn’t minded. She hates being the centre of attention; she prefers the research, the backroom stuff, the careful sifting of evidence. Besides, the camera is meant to put ten pounds on you, which Ruth, at nearly thirteen stone, can well do without.
   But Phil is away at a conference so it’s Ruth who is to be present at the grand opening of the coffin. It’s the sort of thing she would normally avoid like the plague. She dislikes appearing in public and she feels distinctly queasy about opening a coffin live on Prime Time TV (well, Look East anyhow). ‘Beware of disturbing the dead,’ that’s what Erik used to say. Erik Anderssen, Erik the Viking, Ruth’s tutor at university and for many years afterwards her mentor and role model. Now her feelings about Erik are rather more complicated, but that doesn’t stop his voice popping into her head at alarmingly regular intervals. Of course, disturbing the dead is an occupational hazard for archaeologists, but Ruth makes sure that no matter how long-dead the bones are, she always treats them with respect. For one nightmarish summer she excavated war graves in Bosnia, places where the bodies, sometimes killed only months earlier, were flung into pits to fester in the sun. She has dug up the bones of a girl who died over two thousand years ago, an Iron Age girl whose perfectly preserved arm still wore its bracelet of dried grass. She has found Roman bodies buried under walls, offerings to Janus, the two-faced God, and she has unearthed the bones of soldiers killed only seventy years ago. But she never lets herself forget that she is dealing with people who once lived and were once loved. Ruth doesn’t believe in an afterlife which, in her opinion, is all the more reason to treat human relics with respect. They are all we have left.
    The wooden coffin, believed to be that of Bishop Augustine Smith, was discovered when builders began work on a new supermarket in King’s Lynn. The site, for many years derelict industrial land, had once been a church. The church, rather romantically called Saint Mary Outside the Walls, had been bombed in the war and, in the Fifties, was levelled to make way for a fish-canning factory. The factory itself fell into disrepair and now a shiny new supermarket is being built on top. But because of the site’s history, the builders were obliged to call in the field archaeologists who, as was only to be expected, discovered the foundations of a medieval church. What was less expected was another discovery below what was once the high altar, of a coffin containing the remains, it was thought, of the fourteenth-century bishop.
   The discovery was newsworthy for several reasons. The church was mentioned in the Domesday Book and Bishop Augustine himself features prominently in a fourteenthcentury chronicle kept at Norwich Cathedral. In fact, Augustine, one of the earliest bishops, was always supposed to have been buried at the cathedral. What was he doing, then, buried under a fairly minor parish church in King’s Lynn? But inscriptions on the coffin and dating of the wood pointed definitely to Bishop Augustine. The next step was carbon dating of the bones themselves, and somewhere along the line the decision was made to open the coffin in public – watched by the great and the good, including members of the Smith family.
    And that’s the other reason. The Smith family are still alive and well and living in Norfolk. Along the way they have been Catholic martyrs and Protestant traitors, en - nobled by Elizabeth I, and involved in a doomed attempt to hold King’s Lynn for the Royalists in the Civil War. Lord Danforth Smith, the current title holder, is a racehorse trainer and unwilling local celebrity. His son, Randolph, usually to be found draped around an American actress or Russian tennis player, is more relaxed about being in the public eye and is a regular feature of the gossip columns. Previous Smiths have been rather more serious-minded and evidence of their philanthropy is everywhere in Norfolk. As well as the museum there is the Smith wing in the hospital and the Smith Art Collection at the castle. Ruth’s university even has a Smith Professor of Local History, though he hasn’t been seen in public for years and Ruth thinks he may well be dead.
   She parks her battered car in front of the museum. The car park round the side is empty. She’s early; it’s only two-fifteen but still not enough time to get home and back. She might as well go into the museum and look around. Ruth loves museums, which is just as well because, as an archaeologist, she’s done more than her share of looking in dusty glass cases. She remembers going to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill as a child. It was a magical place, full of masks and stuffed birds. Come to think of it, the Horniman was probably the place where she first got interested in archaeology; they had a collection of flint tools, including some from Grimes Graves in Norfolk. She remembers the shock when she realised that these oddly shaped pieces of stone had actually been held by someone who had been alive thousands of years ago. The idea that you could actually go and dig up something that old – something that had been worked and honed by that mysterious creature known as Stone Age man – that idea still sends a shiver down her spine, and has sustained her through many a long and unsuccessful excavation. There is always the thought that under the next clod of earth there is the object – weathered and unrecognisable except to an expert – that is going to change human thought forever. Ruth has made a few lucky discoveries herself. But there is always the tantal - ising thought of the one big find, of the glass case with the inscription ‘discovered by Doctor Ruth Galloway’, of the articles, the book . . . She pushes open the door.  
   The Horniman is a small museum but impressive in its way, with a clock tower at the front and glass conser- vatory at the back. The Smith Museum is something else. It’s a low brick building, squashed between two office blocks. Overhanging gables, painted dull red, make it look as if it’s wearing a hat pulled down low upon its head. Steps lead up to an arched red door with a promising sign saying ‘welcome’. Ruth pushes open the door and finds herself in a small entrance lobby dominated by a stuffed bird in a case and a picture of an angrylooking man in a wig. There’s a notice board adorned with a few faded flyers and a table containing some photocopied sheets labelled, somewhat optimistically, ‘For School Parties’, but no sign that a media event is taking place. No canapés or glasses of wine (Ruth is sure there was a mention of food), no press packs, not even a poster announcing the Grand Opening of the Bishop’s Coffin. A yellowing chandelier overhead is still jangling from the opening of the door. Otherwise there is complete silence.

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A Room Full of Bones 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
LetsBookIt More than 1 year ago
A Room Full of Bones is the second of Elly Griffiths’ books that I have read. She is one of the exceptions to my personal reading rules – I don’t read British authors and I don’t read books that feature the same protagonist across several volumes. I DO read and thoroughly enjoy British author, Elly Griffiths, ‘Ruth Galloway mysteries’. So what makes these books worth the deviation? 1) Ruth Galloway. She is overweight, down to earth, unassuming, intelligent, insecure, fabulous… I could go on. I love her. She is totally relatable – an actual person; someone I could see having coffee with. I also enjoy her friends and the fact that they irritate Ruth – sometimes a lot. 2) Elly Griffiths. Her writing style is smart, fun and interesting. She writes about things that her audience likely knows little about but manages to do it without patronizing her readers or inserting long, boring explanatory dialog. I always learn something from her stories and enjoy the learning. If you decide to take me at my word and read A Room Full of Bones, you will be immersed in old bones, secrets, near death experiences, curses and Australian aboriginal rights. As Ruth Galloway tries to adjust to life as a single Mum, her world is rocked by animal rights activists and the ancient bones of medieval bishop with secrets of their own. Never a dull moment in Ruth’s life. Well worth the read.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
Dr. Ruth Galloway, the 41-year-old Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk, returns in this new novel by Elly Griffiths. As the book opens Kate, the baby born to Ruth a result of a one-night stand with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson in an earlier entry in the series, is about to celebrate her first birthday. The relationship between Ruth and Harry is now, however, nearly non-existent: To save his marriage, when his wife realized the truth, he had promised never to see Ruth, or Kate, again. Nelson, head of the county’s Serious Crimes Squad of the King’s Lynn police, now 43 years old and known as many things (male chauvinist pig among them), loves his wife and their two daughters. Despite his intention to remain true to his promise, he encounters Ruth following the discovery of the dead body of the curator of the Smith Museum, where Ruth is to attend what was to be the opening of a coffin containing the remains, it was thought, of a 14th-century bishop. The man was thought to be in good health, and there is no evidence of foul play. However, when another death occurs within a few days of the first, the police believe there may be more involved than meets the eye, or the medical examiner’s autopsy. There was quite a bit of controversy, it seems, about the museum’s ‘ownership’ of skulls and skeletal remains of Aboriginal Australians, with very strong feelings that they should be repatriated to their native land. There is also a legendary curse associated with anyone who comes in contact with them. The book is replete with mysticism and lore. The characters created by the author in this series continue to fascinate, and there is much discussion of animal rights as well as the repatriation issue. Having loved the other books in the series, this reader at first thought the book moved at a slower pace than the earlier entries, but by the end, as the various plot lines are resolved, and the suspense quickens, those reservations dissolved, and the book is recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But not bad enough to keep me from buying the next one
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I read in this series, and now I plan to read them all. Very entertaining writing style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another good installment in the Ruth Galloway series. This is the second time around for me and I am enjoying revisiting all the interesting characters-there’s so much going on - I never lose interest.
nocto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entertaining, I think I've probably given it four stars more because I'm happy to have a new ongoing series I enjoy that for the actual plot here, but hey. I've already decided to go with the flow of the somewhat stupid behaviour of some of the characters in this series so there was nothing unusual to get annoyed about here, and I enjoyed the read.
Twink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Room Full of Bones is the newly released fourth book in Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series.Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in England. She's been called in to a local museum to oversee the opening of a coffin that purportedly holds the bones of a medieval bishop. But when she arrives earlier than planned, she finds the curator dead and the body still warm. She calls for help and it arrives in the person of DCI Harry Nelson and his sidekick Clough. We were left with a bit of a cliffhanger in the last pages of the third book, The House at Sea's End. You see, Harry is married, but he is the father of Ruth's one year old daughter Kate. Their (non) relationship has been just as intriguing as the plots that Griffiths comes up with.Other favourite characters are back as well. Cathbad rivals Ruth for my affection. Cathbad is a self proclaimed Druid, who always seems to appear without warning, just when one of his friends might need help. I was happy to see him have a larger piece of the plot in this book. Detective Sergeant Judy Johnson is also given a larger role in both her professional and personal story lines. Again, another character I quite like. Really, all of the supporting characters are just as interesting. Their personalities are all quite diverse and I feel like I've come to know them. Griffith's descriptions of the Norfolk marshes always capture me. Ruth's little cottage at the edge of the salt marsh sounds wonderful.A Room Full of Bones involves a good deal of police work, but the line between cold, hard facts and otherworldly situations, elements and solutions blurred in this latest book- especially with Cathbad's input. It was a thought provoking plot line drawing from a very real issue.Aboriginal bones, dead Bishops, animal rights, drug runners, curses, horse racing and more are teamed up with some of the most interesting and engaging characters around. Griffiths has done it again - hooked me with a great read that I finished too quickly and left me waiting for the next in this engaging series. Definitely recommended.
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elly Griffiths' fourth offering in her Ruth Calloway mystery series is the aptly named `A Room Full of Bones.'Ruth, who is a forensic archeologist at a regional British university, is usually an interesting character. An often grumpy academic whose career has always been of primary import she has, as the result of unplanned liaison, become the mother of a toddler. She is now juggling the challenges of single motherhood and career. Add to that her ambivalent feelings about the baby's father, who just happens to be a married police inspector she all too often seems called upon to work with.Book Four's mystery is centered around the corpse of a museum director that Ruth discovers when shevisits a local museum to supervise the opening of a medieval coffin.Griffiths has created an interesting set of characters and once again they take center stage, dominating the novel and relegating the mystery plot to a role of secondary import.So for those looking for fast action and a tight plot with the solution of the mystery element a key element, this novel may not be satisfying.But for those who enjoy watching unique characters interact and grow, `A Room Full of Bones' is a cut above the average.(A review copy was provided by the publisher.)
Darcia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only thing I found interesting about this book were the segments about archaeology. The rest, for me, was a disappointment.The plot moves at a snail's pace. I didn't like any of the characters. They were predictable, dull and one-dimensional. There is a lot of time spent on introspection, with the characters going over the same issues again and again in their own minds. I could skip ahead five pages and not miss a thing.I have not read any of the previous Ruth Galloway novels. Nor did I feel I needed to. So much of the past is rehashed during introspective scenes, I feel like I know all the important (and some minor) events in all the previous stories. I could have easily put this one down halfway through and never picked it up again.
cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First Line: The coffin is definitely a health and safety hazard.The coffin in question belongs to a medieval bishop named Augustine who is dug up when the site of his burial is scheduled to be turned into a huge grocery store. Despite all the warnings Augustine gave about leaving his remains alone, a small "unveiling" is scheduled in the Smith Museum, presently owned by one of Augustine's descendants. Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway has been asked to preside over the opening of the coffin, but when she shows up at the museum a little early, she finds the curator dead on the floor by the bishop's remains.Ruth's daughter Kate has just turned one, and Ruth feels as though she's slowly getting the hang of being a mother, even if Kate lets her get very little sleep. She'd like to be more interested in the curator's death, but the coroner labels it natural causes, and Ruth moves on to the next items in her busy agenda.Bishop Augustine's unveiling is done very quietly, which is a good thing because something totally unexpected occurs. Augustine's descendant, Lord Smith, shows Ruth a room full of Aboriginal bones another ancestor harvested and brought back to England from Australia. A group called the Elginists is demanding that the bones be repatriated to their homeland, but Lord Smith views them as his rightful possessions and refuses. Shortly thereafter Lord Smith dies-- also of natural causes?-- and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson is brought in to investigate.Having been searching for drug smugglers, Nelson isn't convinced that these deaths are natural, especially when threatening letters to both victims turn up, but when he's hospitalized with a mysterious and deadly fever, his team have to take up the slack and try to find out how a medieval bishop, Aboriginal bones and drug smuggling all tie in together.Although part of a series, this book can easily be read as a standalone because Griffiths fills in many details from the previous books (sometimes to the detriment of earlier plot points). The story here is a good one, with several elements that I didn't deduce before the author showed me how they fit together.If you're the type of reader who demands that favorite characters remain front and center in each book of a series, you're going to be a bit disappointed in this one. Although there is much about Ruth and Harry's ever-evolving relationship, they are often at the periphery of the investigation. Although I did miss them, this allows Griffiths to let her secondary characters stretch their wings a bit and provide many exciting scenes.Two things really excited me about this book. One was the plot. I love stories with strong elements of superstition and legend in them that can be explained by something concrete and almost commonplace. Not only does it give my brain a workout, this sort of plot does the same for the characters in showing how they react to it and investigate it. Griffiths' plot moved like a well-oiled machine, and I found myself reading faster and faster in an attempt to gather it all in and find a solution before the characters did.The second thing that excited me was Griffiths' cast of characters. The cast is growing and developing strong new faces, which bodes well for the future of the series. The relationship between Ruth and Harry with its awkwardness and misunderstandings, the way Ruth is adapting to motherhood and the appearance of another man in her life, the way Harry and his wife are trying to hold things together... all these elements are constantly evolving as they would in the real world. In this book I was reminded time and again of my favorite "relationship" series written by Deborah Crombie. To have this series join the ranks of those in which the characters attain such a level of verisimilitude is very exciting stuff indeed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of her best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do love this series and look forward to reading many more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MarnieG More than 1 year ago
I enjoy all of Elly's books....have not found one that I did not like.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sadly, this author seems to be more and more interested in mystical nonsense and utter silliness like druids, and not too much interested in providing a good mystery. Obnoxious, pretentious twits like Cathbad run amok through this novel. Ruth's willingness to listen to mumbo jumbo , and, in fact, to actively embrace it, makes a mockery of her profession and is very irritating besides. I won't be continuing this series; too bad, because the first couple were quite good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why does anyone think being insecure and neurotic to the point of psychosis is entertaining? Ruth gives me a headache. Did not finish the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the multisided characters and plot teists
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