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Disorder, death, and women bishops

05 August 2016

Penny Seabrook enjoys a complex mystery set in the grounds of Walsingham

The Woman in Blue: A Dr Ruth Galloway mystery
Elly Griffiths
Quercus £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30



DCI NELSON, who plays the lead part in this murder mystery set in Walsingham, is a pale-blue version of Inspector Morse, who drives a Mercedes instead of a Jaguar, listens to rock ballads or easy drive-time music rather than Wagner, and lives in a cul-de-sac with Michelle, his “streaky-gold-maned” wife of 25 years.

To complicate matters, Michelle is on the verge of having an affair with his sidekick, Tim, and bears a striking resemblance to the victims of the story: the first, a beautiful young model in rehab; the second, an actress turned priest from Kent, whose previous claim to fame was playing a prostitute in The Bill; the third, the mother of a local vicar’s four children.

As the link between them is ex­­cavated, with the help of Dr Ruth Gallo­way, an archaeologist and Nelson’s former lover, the plot dances between graveyards at mid­night, a conference on the episco­pacy of women, and the Sanctuary, where a sexually offending priest is receiving treatment for sexual offences. The only character missing — in a cast that includes a theo­logian, two cats, a black belt in tae­kwondo, and various New Age thinkers — is a forensic psychologist who might have added some depth to the tormented souls drawn into the action.

Elly Golding is no wordsmith, but the plot is well paced, and makes good use of the fertile opportunities afforded by religious zeal, hidden resentments, and the part-real, part-imaginary, map of Walsingham. Tension rises as preparations are made for re-enacting the Passion in the grounds of the Abbey, allowing the denouement full advantage of the crucifixion; but the end includes a breathless resuscitation that demands suspension of disbelief.

Faith in Nelson’s criminal in stincts is resolved rather more con­vincingly than his marital prob­lems, but fans of Ruth Galloway will not be disappointed, since the story has the momentum and style of a TV script. Our Lady of Walsingham is put to dubious use, but if you do not mind the atheistic caricature, and if you like spotting clues while learn­ing a little about history, then read on.


The Revd Penny Seabrook is Associ­ate Vicar of All Saints’, Fulham, in west London.

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