Friday, 5 November 1999
Ann Granger: Where Old Bones Lie (1993)
Review number: 381
An early Mitchell and Markby mystery, Where Old Bones Lie is set at an archaeological dig. It starts when Meredith Mitchell is rung up by an old friend. Ursula has just ended a disastrous affair with a colleague. Dan is still saying that he loves her, and now his wife has disappeared and Dan is obviously lying about her whereabouts, making Ursula worry that he has murdered her. The two of them work for a Trust which is funding a dig near Bamford, where the stories of this series are set. They hope to find the grave of an early Saxon chieftain. As the dig has recently been surrounded by an encampment of New Age travellers, the Trust wants someone to sleep on site, and Meredith volunteers to keep Ursula company in a caravan there. Then the body of Dan's wife is found on a rubbish tip near the site.
A dig is a good setting for a crime novel; they are often isolated camps on farmland, offering plenty of opportunity for tensions to rise in small groups of people. (Though it is apparently now the case that the majority of UK archaeology consists of 'rescue' digs, to discover as much about a site as possible before developers move in and destroy the evidence: hardly isolated.) The puzzle is good, the characters are good. The New Age travellers are the biggest problem. Granger tries not to stereotype them, but their very presence in the story is something of a stereotypical device, using common fears of the middle class reader - and I suspect that most crime fiction readers would consider themselves middle class - to distract them from the real solution to the crime. They include stereotypical figures, such as the upper class girl most concerned to keep her activities unknown to her family. I think we are still yet to see a sympathetic and accurate portrayal of these people in a novel.