Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham (Orion, 2012)

A prostitute and her six-year-old daughter are found dead in an abandoned house in Cardiff.  At the scene is the credit card of a wealthy local businessman who died in a plane crash, though his body was never discovered. Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is working on a different case, assembling the accounts for an ex-cop caught embezzling funds from his new employer, but she desperately wants to be part of the new murder investigation. Her boss is somewhat reluctant, since Griffiths is a little erratic, excelling at things she likes, and neglecting those she doesn’t.  Indeed, she gives the appearance of being somewhat autistic, being highly intelligent, socially awkward, over-intense and a loner, and there’s a two year gap in her past which everyone assumes was a breakdown.  Nonetheless, her boss lets her hover round the fringe of the task force, seeking information from other prostitutes. Finding links between the ex-cop embezzler and the dead owner of the credit card, Griffiths is soon running her own parallel investigation, ignoring orders and protocol, and trying to shake things up to get a firm lead and evidence, placing herself in danger. And for reasons she can’t quite fathom the two deaths are drawing her back into her past and a dark secret.

The rebellious but good cop who’s prepared to break the rules, and sometimes the law, to catch dangerous criminals is somewhat of a cliché in police procedurals.  Harry Bingham manages, however, to put a fresh spin on the format with Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, an unconventional, socially awkward, highly intelligent woman who is something of a law to herself, despite her concerted attempts to try and read social situations and do the right thing.  Griffiths is a wonderful character that raises Talking to the Dead beyond just another competent police procedural.  Bingham gives her real depth, with strong character development occurring as the story unfolds. The plot is engaging with Griffiths running her own investigation within the official investigation into the death of a prostitute and her young daughter, all the while becoming more manic and seemingly regressing into the psychosis that consumed her last two years as a teenager.  Bingham nicely moves all the pieces into place, building to a dramatic denouement.  Unfortunately these scenes shifted into an action thriller that stretched credibility. Nonetheless, Talking to the Dead was a wonderful read and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series and spending more time with DC Fiona Griffiths.

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