Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review of The Dead House by Harry Bingham (2016, Orion)

A young woman is found laid out in an old ‘dead house’, a small building close to a chapel in which bodies were housed prior to burial. For Detective Sergeant Fiona Griffiths how she came to be there is a puzzle worth solving. Even when the autopsy reveals she died of natural causes, Griffiths finds a way to keep the case open so she can assuage her curiosity. She has two lines of inquiry, some very expensive, high-end plastic surgery that will hopefully reveal who she is, and some trace barley remains that might reveal where she lived or died prior to being laid out. She doggedly pursues both leads and soon has a proper case; though as usual she spots connections that no-one else can see and her headstrong approach is bound to lead her into big trouble. 

The Dead House is the fifth book in the Fiona Griffiths police procedural series set in South Wales. In this outing, Fiona is investigating the death of a young woman laid out in a chapel dead house. The first challenge is identifying her given no-one appears to know who she is and her expensive plastic surgery suggests she is not local. The second is work out how she came to be there and her movements prior to death. Having spent the night in the dead house with ‘Carlotta’, as Fiona names the corpse, she has formed a special bond given her own odd relationship with death, vowing to solve the mystery. Bingham spins out a taut, twisting tale from this premise, with Fiona in fine, singular form. Undoubtedly the joy of this series is Fiona, who is one of the quirkiest, interesting and smart police officers in fiction and a pleasure to spend time with, despite all her foibles and vices that must drive most of her colleagues mad. Added to this is a strong sense of place, a captivating plot, along with the longer plot arc of the series, and engaging narrative. While it became somewhat unbelievable towards the end, the story was a gripping page turner (the scenes underground had my heart in my mouth and put me off caving for life). Another very entertaining addition to what has become my favourite UK-set series.

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