The Janus Stone
Elly Griffiths
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Buy *The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery* by Elly Griffiths online

The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery
Elly Griffiths
Mariner Books
352 pages
January 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In his role as the guardian of exits and entrances, the Roman god Janus represented beginnings and openings of the past and the future. Beginnings are evident in Griffiths' latest Norfolk-based thriller when her spirited heroine Ruth Galloway emerges through a door to enter into a new place, called to a building site on Woolmarket Street where a team of archaeologists have found some bones buried under the wall of a house.

Quite possibly Roman and perhaps part of the wall of a villa, the bones may have been a foundation sacrifice - an offering to the gods Janus and Terminus. Couched in a fetal position with no skull, they appear to be anywhere between fifty to several hundred years old. Enigmatic Dr. Max Grey, a fellow archaeologist and an expert on Roman Britain, regales Ruth with tales of death and decapitation. She is positive that the bones were buried fairly recently, perhaps concealed when the door was put in place.

Straight from their last outing together, Ruth and short-fused DCI Harry Nelson are thrust together to solve this latest case. While Nelson is overwhelmed by the sudden revelation that Ruth might be pregnant and that he could be the father, Ruth continues to revel in the barren isolation of her cottage on the Norfolk salt marshes with their sand dunes, winds and seagulls calling from high about.

Fighting constant nausea, Ruth turns to the first major clue: the strange Latin inscription on an elaborate archway, transcribed by Max as “everything changes, nothing perishes.” Building contractor Edward Spens is developing seventy-five luxury apartments on the site, but he or his family can shed little light on the history of the building or the meaning behind the cryptic inscription.

When Nelson's crack investigative team discover that the grounds once consisted of a children’s orphanage run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Father who used to run the orphanage tells them the house was old even in his time. He also tells Nelson the disturbing story of two children who disappeared back in 1973, vanishing into thin air like Hansel and Gretel. While Nelson is sure there is something festering in air, a heaviness cloaked under a sense of secrecy, a pattern gradually unfurls of decapitated cats, headless skeletons, sacred wells and curiously compelling fairy tales.

Incarnations of death echo throughout this story. Ruth’s friend Cathbad warns her to be careful, that disturbing the dead and meddling with the past will undoubtedly have dire consequences. From the secrets of an elderly nun to the oddness of Edward Spens’s father to a once beautiful house with its half-ruined Gothic walls and grandiose archway, events begin to spiral out of control. Like a snake gliding slowly over a Roman mosaic, Ruth realizes that someone is trying to scare her to death.

While the pace of The Janus Stone is unremitting, much of the drama comes from the fraught dynamic between Nelson and Ruth. As Nelson’s feelings for her veer crazily between anger, admiration, and heart-clenching compassion, our beloved Ruth is as plucky and determined as ever. The two stone faces of Janus look up at Ruth, strangely sinister and impassive as the Norfolk salt marshes continue to offer up their dark and ancient secrets: skeletons and skulls and bodies and bones, the riddles of their origins buried deep beneath the sea.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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