Elly Griffiths is wrapping up her now iconic and beloved Ruth Galloway series with The Last Remains. The series, which began in 2009 with The Crossing Places, features forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway, her detecting partner (and sometimes lover) DCI Harry Nelson, and their evolving relationship over 15 books, many years, and several cases.
When we first meet Ruth in the small town of North Norfolk, she's a fan of Bruce Springsteen music and the owner of two cats, living otherwise alone at the edge of Norfolk's Salt Marshes. Over the course of Griffith's series, Ruth's world has grown to encompass a life of changes and a circle of characters, including Ruth's daughter Kate, her Druid friend Cathbad, and best friend Shona, that readers have eagerly followed.
The Last Remains is a worthy wrap-up, as the author finally settles the future of Ruth and Nelson. It’s heavy on Cathbad and we also see Kate becoming a young woman. Griffiths includes references to her other series books throughout, so keep a close eye as you read—and have a box of tissues handy. Ruth is a character that's very difficult to say farewell to.
Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: I am so sad you are wrapping up your Ruth Galloway books, but I think the arc she has lived in now 15 books is brought to a wonderful conclusion. Can you first talk about creating Ruth? To me, she’s one of the great characters in all of mystery fiction. I used to qualify that as “contemporary” mystery fiction, but I think she’s simply an all-time classic.
Elly Griffiths: Thank you! That’s a great compliment. Well, Ruth just appeared one day. I always feel a bit embarrassed saying that, but it’s true. I was walking across Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk with my husband, an archaeologist, and he made a remark about marshland being sacred to prehistorical people. Because it’s neither land nor sea, they saw it as a bridge to the afterlife—neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. At that moment, I saw Dr Ruth Galloway walking towards me out of the mist.
What made you decide, now is the time to wrap it up? I actually applaud your decision because I can think of a great number of series that keep going well past their expiration date.
I really felt it was time to end the will they/won’t they storyline with Ruth and Nelson. Book 14, The Locked Room, had brought things to a head. The Locked Room was set during the UK lockdown of 2020 and, like so many people, Ruth and Nelson had time to assess their priorities. I knew that I had to answer the question in The Last Remains.
I loved all the references in The Last Remains to the other books in the series. Did you have to refresh your memory to include some of the details?
Yes! I had a notebook where I ticked off each book in turn. I often have to go back and refresh my memory. The strange thing is, sometimes I find seeds for the following books that I didn’t know I had planted.
You’ve really put Cathbad through the wringer in the last few books. He often is the character you seem to put in danger, health or otherwise (I’m also thinking of A Dying Fall). Can you talk about creating him, and why you enjoy putting him in danger?
When I first researched Seahenge (the Bronze Age wooden henge found on a Norfolk beach) I read that "local druids" had protested when the timbers were taken away. I knew that a druid had to be a character in The Crossing Places. I didn’t expect Cathbad to become such a main character though. I have a couple of friends who have taken a more mystical path and their experiences have definitely shaped Cathbad. I don’t exactly enjoy putting him in danger but, because Cathbad believes so strongly in an afterlife, it’s interesting to bring him to the threshold of it. Cathbad was meant to die in A Dying Fall but I just couldn’t do it!
Do you have a favorite character, other than Ruth, Cathbad, or Nelson?
I have a soft spot for Tanya, despite the fact that she can’t understand why people read books. My favorite minor character is Father Hennessey.
I’ve loved watching Kate grow up. You’ve kept the messiness of motherhood—and life—very realistic. Can you talk about writing Kate?
Through a stroke of luck, my niece had a baby at exactly the same time that Kate was born. My great-niece Gabriella has been a very helpful checkpoint. And now she’s old enough to read the books!
Will you miss Ruth and archeology?
I started to miss Ruth as soon as The Last Remains was finished. I won’t miss archaeology because I have an idea for a new series that includes history and archaeology.
I’m really enjoying your Harbinder Kaur books, another great character creation. It must be fun to change things up with each book. Do you have a favorite in that series so far, and what’s next for Harbinder?
I’m so glad you like Harbinder! She’s a rewarding character to write; I like the fact that all "her" books are so different. The Stranger Diaries was gothic, The Postscript Murders cozy and Bleeding Heart Yard a psychological thriller. For that reason, I couldn’t pick a favorite. I’m just starting a new book, The Last Word, featuring characters from The Postscript Murders.
You’re also busy writing your young adult series and your Brighton series. How do you keep all the different books separate in your head? All share clever plotting and great characters.
Thank you! I can only write one book at a time and, when I’m writing, I’m in that world. Not to say that I don’t make mistakes. Ruth once appeared in a Brighton Mystery…
What has surprised you writing about Ruth?
I’ve been surprised—and delighted—by how much people have liked her. I wasn’t sure how readers would relate to an unglamorous character who prefers books and cats to people. Turns out she struck a chord!
And finally, this is just a comment: Your books are a multigenerational family read for our family—my mother, sister, and daughter all love the books. I’m sure that’s not intentional, but thank you.
That’s so lovely to hear! I used to love sharing books with my mum and now I share them with my son and daughter. It’s a lovely thing to do.
Elly Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway and Brighton mystery series, as well as the standalone novels The Stranger Diaries, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, The Postscript Murders, and Bleeding Heart Yard. She is the recipient of the CWA Dagger in the Library Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in Brighton, England.
Robin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at abebooks.com and the site auntagathas.com is home to more of Robin's writing.