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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh police detective’

LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS by Harry Bingham: Book Review

Friends and subscribers to my blog know that I read a lot of mysteries, three or four a week.  Not every book I read gets reviewed, as I write only about the ones I would recommend.

So when I write that Love Story, with Murders is an absolutely outstanding mystery, please believe me.

Love Story, with Murders follows Fiona Griffiths, a young Welsh detective, as she and her colleagues try to solve two gruesome, similar, but difficult-to-connect murders in Cardiff.  On a slow winter day, called to investigate an insignificant incident involving illegal trash, Fiona is examining  rubbish in a garage when she opens the freezer chest there and finds a human leg, complete with high-heeled shoe.  Judging from its appearance, it’s been there a long time.

The day following this grisly discovery another body part is found, an arm.  But this is a man’s arm, and the person to whom it belonged is only very recently dead.  When Fiona canvasses the area where she discovered the female leg, she enters a neighboring shed and finds a woman’s head in a bucket of oil.  The police discover that the head and leg belonged to Mary Langton, a young woman who disappeared five years earlier.

I know this sounds incredibly bizarre, but keep reading.  The key ingredient that makes this book so special is the heroine, Fiona.  As in the first mystery in the series, Talking to the Dead, she tells the story and is the center that holds everything together.

(Spoiler Alert:  What we didn’t know until the end of Talking to the Dead is that Fiona has Cotard’s Syndrome/aka Cotard’s Delusion or the Walking Corpse Syndrome).  Those suffering from this mental illness believe they are not alive, are missing body parts, don’t recognize themselves in the mirror, and/or have great difficulty experiencing both emotions and purely physical effects such as heat, cold, or pain.  So severe was Fiona’s case that she spent two of her teenage years in a mental hospital.

Because Fiona is telling the story, the reader is privy to all her thoughts.  We can understand her emotional issues and the questions she has about her past.  Fiona was found abandoned in a car that belonged to a Cardiff “businessman” and his wife.  She was nicely dressed, seemed to be about two or two and half years old, and had a camera around her neck; there was no other information with her.  The couple adopted her, and they and her two younger sisters are Fiona’s family.

The reason for the quotes around the word businessman is that Fiona’s father is involved in many illegal activities.  He’s been brought before the police on several occasions and was even brought to trial twice, but he was not convicted in either case.  Fiona is devoted to him, and the devotion is mutual, but she feels that he knows more about her background than he is willing to share.  So she’s determined to start investigating her past on her own.

Harry Bingham has written a mystery that succeeds on every level–its characters and plot are compelling.  Love Story, With Murders is a wonderfully written novel, and you will be cheering for Fiona every step of the way.

You can read more about Harry Bingham and how he developed his heroine at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




TALKING TO THE DEAD by Harry Bingham: Book Review

Sometimes a book is so good that when you finish reading it you simply have to close your eyes and relish it for a moment. Talking to the Dead is one of those books.

This is the first mystery I’m blogging about that takes place in modern Wales; the only other Welsh book on my blog is One Corpse Too Many, one of the Brother Cadfael twelfth-century mysteries by the late Ellis Peters.

Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is an honors graduate in philosophy from Cambridge University and a relatively new member of the Cardiff police force. She already has a bit of a reputation for unorthodox behavior–when a suspect made some inappropriate advances to her, she broke his kneecap and three of his fingers.

Two bodies are found in a shabby, seemingly abandoned house in the city.  They are identified as Janet Mancini, a part-time prostitute with a drug habit, and her six-year-old daughter April.  In the midst of the squalor the police come across a credit card belonging to Brendan Rattigan, a wealthy businessman who died in a plane crash several months before the book opens.  What could this card be doing in Janet Mancini’s possession?

The narrative is in the first person, in Fiona’s voice.  We know almost from the beginning there is something off, not quite right about her. She’s not able to show emotions, and only by viewing what those around her are showing is she able to approximate the appropriate ones–fear, happiness, surprise.  And, to the best of her memory, she has never in her life cried.  In fact, she doesn’t know what tears would feel like–would they be hot, would they hurt?  She simply doesn’t know.

Fiona is sent with another officer to interview Cardiff’s prostitutes, hoping for a clue into Janet’s murder.  The women are initially reluctant to speak, not having had good experiences with the police, but they open up to Fiona a bit more willingly after a second prostitute is murdered.  They have to decide which is more frightening–talking to the police and hoping for protection or waiting for the killer to strike again.

Fiona is also investigating the case of a former police detective who will soon be on trial for embezzlement.  She thinks there’s a connection between his case and the murders, but no one else seems to share her feelings.  So she’s working overtime to follow her instincts and trying to connect the cases.

Fiona Griffiths is a remarkable character.  She’s smart, intuitive, courageous.  She’s trying to understand who she is, both personally and professionally, but she is plagued by frequent night terrors that she can’t explain, even to herself.  There were two years in her mid-teens when she had a complete mental breakdown, and neither she nor the mental health professionals who tried to help were successful in figuring out the cause or causes.

Following Fiona as she tries to deal with the blank spots in her memory is an important part of the novel.  When the book ends and the explanation given, I promise that you will not be unmoved.

The other characters in Talking to the Dead are wonderful too.  Her superior officer, her colleague who might become something more, her loving parents are all beautifully and realistically drawn.  This is a mystery but also a story of a young woman trying hard to find her place in the world.  It’s a remarkable debut.

You can read more about Harry Bingham at his web site.