As the UK enters its first lockdown in 2020, Ruth Galloway tries to unravel a mystery from her mother’s past while simultaneously teaching, homeschooling, and running a university department. DCI Nelson, meanwhile, finds his investigation into a string of suspicious suicides hampered by covid-related issues. This 14th book of the series is less focused on mystery, and more on the confusion, uncertainty, and fear brought on by the early days of the pandemic.
Let me give three warnings before I start in with my thoughts on this book. First, don’t read any of the online book descriptions. I’m not sure why, but they’re all different from each other and all inaccurate in some way. Weird things, like they each have a different name for Ruth’s neighbor. Second, this book is written in a way to make that first wave of lockdown and the unknown feel very, very close. Yes, the pandemic is still ongoing, but we have more information now, more protocols, more protection. This book deals with everything from toilet paper shortages to the increase in domestic violence during lockdown to conspiracy theorists. If the pandemic hit very close to home for you, particularly if you had a family member pass away in those early days, this book might cause some re-traumatization. Third is a content warning for covid death, domestic violence, and eating disorders (including general disordered eating, extreme weight loss, fad dieting, and body image issues).
Now that that’s out of the way, I loved this book. It’s a very chaotic book, with a couple different mysteries going on, but unlike previous volumes of this series, the mystery is almost superfluous. The real focus of the book is covid. Griffiths does an incredible job of bringing those early days back to life, with all the uncertainty and unknowns. Everything changed so quickly from it’s just a flu, it’ll pass quickly, it won’t really affect us; to shut downs and lockdowns and shortages and confusion. I’ve said it before, but again: On March 8th, 2020, I went on a long hike with friends and at the mid-point, we had a snack break. One woman offered around hand sanitizer, and most of us declined. We briefly discussed covid, and 90% of us weren’t really concerned. Three days later, our local NBA basketball team canceled the rest of the season. On the 13th, we had our first local covid case and went into the closest San Antonio ever had to a lockdown. Five days. That’s how quickly things changed.
Mixed in with all the covid stuff is a lot of development in Ruth’s personal life. She learns a lot more about her family, both positive and negative, though I can’t say more without giving away spoilers. The complicated relationship between her and DCI Nelson is fairly well back-burnered for a big chunk of the book, though it’s always an undercurrent, and there are some large changes there, too.
There is more, there are actually some moments of extreme acute tension, of don’t you dare, that I can’t discuss without giving away some emotionally valuable parts of the story. I’ll just say that my heart was racing and I brought my audiobook to a place where I could get uninterrupted listening time, because I was not going to stop listening until that particular situation was resolved!
Anyway. I usually don’t spend this much time on a later volume of a series, but this one felt noteworthy for a lot of reasons. In general, I continue to love this series and eagerly anticipate each new volume. This one, just like the previous, was particularly good. I feel like they’re getting better over time, and I’m so happy that I found these books a few years ago. I have no idea how long Ruth Galloway will have her adventures – book 15 is slated for publishing next year – but I’ll keep reading as long as she does!
Performance: As usual, Jane McDowell narrates this book. I’ve complained in the past about some of the sound effects of the production (like the echoing distance voice on phone calls) and those still aren’t my favorite (though I’ve gotten used to them), but a new sound effect was used for other portions of the novel that I really did appreciate. I mostly enjoyed the performance, and I generally prefer listening to this series. The audio really brings them to life.
It did change very quickly. A couple of weeks before lockdown, one of my colleagues brought some hand sanitiser into the office and put it on the reception, and everyone laughed at her for taking notice of all the scaremongering. And I went to a football match with 78,000 other people, and the mood was very much “We’re not going to be kept away by some silly virus”. The same happened at the big Cheltenham Race Meeting, and the Commonwealth Day service attended by senior royals. And then suddenly you weren’t supposed to leave the house unless it was to go food shopping or for one walk a day, and you weren’t allowed to see your family and friends. Horrible times.
I know there are still a lot of restrictions and precautions, but reliving the early days brought out just how different things are now compared to two years ago.
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