The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths – a review

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m catching up on an outstanding one from March when. I wrote a few words on Goodreads for this third book in the Fiona Griffiths series by Harry Bingham and promised a longer review.

This will be my third review of a Fiona Griffiths book – see also: Book 1. Talking to the Dead and Book 2. Love Story with Murders.

Anyway, as promised…

StrangeDeath

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

(Fiona Griffiths #3)

by

Harry Bingham (Goodreads Author)

It started out as nothing much. A minor payroll fraud at a furniture store in South Wales. No homicide involved, no corpses. Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths fights to get free of the case but loses. She’s tasked with the investigation.

She begins her enquiries, only to discover the corpse of a woman who’s starved to death. Looks further, and soon realizes that within the first, smaller crime, a vaster one looms: the most audacious theft in history.

Fiona’s bosses need a copper willing to go undercover, and they ask Fiona to play the role of a timid payroll clerk so that she can penetrate the criminal gang from within.

Fiona will be alone, she’ll be lethally vulnerable – and her fragile grip on ‘Planet Normal’ will be tested as never before …

Review 5 stars

Fiona Griffiths is one amazingly quirky detective and this third book adds just another layer or two to her persona. Harry Bingham continues to throw curve balls in her path, starting with that title.

When DC Fiona Griffiths is tasked with investigating a minor payroll fraud, she discovers a vaster crime is lurking within the first. Fiona is asked to go undercover as a timid payroll clerk to penetrate the criminal gang from inside. But, being alone and vulnerable, challenges her ability to cope with reality.

I enjoyed this third book even more than the previous. Fiona continues to go down unexpected paths and evolve in unexpected ways. With her new persona, she is so complex and fascinating that there was room for her to explore this new world, discover different people – all well portrayed – and prove she can interact convincingly with criminals. If you have read the first two books, then you know that her father has criminal connections. However, she is always operating on a precipice – in reality, and in her mind.

As Fiona becomes Jessica, there is a clever change of pace that matches the new character – a new character that Fiona inhabits almost too well. The title began to make sense, but then the author added new twists and turns – new layers to his protagonist and that title.

The settings are crafted with a realism that matches the unfolding story – from London offices to remote Welsh farms. Gritty when the scene requires that but uplifting when the reader needs green spaces and strong breezes. A year in Fiona’s life covers so much territory.

Harry Bingham is a great believer in keeping readers thinking as well as the coppers and the criminals. He creates believable situations and demonstrates the depth of his research, even down to the details of forms that Fiona/Jessica handles and the electronics both sides use.

Nothing is ever easy or calm when undercover, and as Fiona/Jessica got deeper into this criminal world, I asked, “Will Jessica survive?” Prepare for another awesome ending.

I look forward to visiting Fiona Griffiths’ Cardiff/South Wales world soon, especially as she has ongoing questions to resolve.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Love Story, with Murders – a review

Having discovered the quirky and dark Welsh detective Fiona Griffiths in Talking to the Dead, I had to read Book 2 in this unique series. I didn’t regret it and Book 3 beckons. [For my review of Book 1 see: https://rolandclarke.com/2016/04/11/talking-to-the-dead-a-review/ ]

Love Story

Love Story, With Murders (Fiona Griffiths #2)

by Harry Bingham (Goodreads Author)

The second novel featuring recovering psychotic DC Fiona Griffiths opens with as intriguing a pair of murders as you could imagine. Firstly, part of a human leg is discovered in a woman’s freezer, bagged up like a joint of pork. Other similarly gruesome discoveries follow throughout a cosy Cardiff suburb, with body parts turning up in kitchens, garages and potting sheds. And while the police are still literally putting the pieces together, concluding that they all belong to a teenage girl killed some ten years earlier, parts of another body suddenly start appearing, but this time discarded carelessly around the countryside clearly very shortly after the victim – a man – was killed.

Mysteries don’t come much more macabre or puzzling than this. Who were the two victims, and what connection could they have shared that would result in this bizarre double-discovery?

But that’s only half the story. The most gruesome moments are much more about Fiona and her curious mental state. There is a complex and very clever double mystery here, and what makes the story unique is the parallel unraveling of Fiona’s own mystery, and it’s her voice, established precisely in the first book but given even freer rein here, that makes it so compelling.

Review 5 stars

In this second novel in an engrossing series, DC Fiona Griffiths is once again challenged to apply her strange talents to solving a case or maybe it’s two cases. This DC is not like others and this is one of the winning formulas that Harry Bingham gives to the character.

With her personality traits being at times psychotic, the first person POV works as we discover more and more about Fiona’s past and about the cases. She has more than murder to handle and she needs to act off-piste to get things done and progress the cases. The violence, in the victim’s remains or the action, is not excessive or overtly gruesome, but some fans of the cosy approach might baulk at it. Fiona doesn’t, of course.

At this stage in her policing career, Fiona still has things to learn, often things she recognises and ignores at her cost – but what better way to keep the plot moving and the reader guessing. Her relationship with her fierce boss, DI Watkins, is unexpected and interesting – the secondary characters are all well portrayed, especially the DI. There are sub-plots surrounding some of them and these all add to the story.

Fiona’s attitudes are unusual but her flippancy and willingness to think her mind are what makes her unique – and believable. I wouldn’t want her to be ‘normal’ and boring – in fact, people aren’t when we get to know them properly as some of the characters prove over time.

The settings from Cardiff to the rural areas of South Wales are all vividly evoked, and through Fiona’s senses, so, we also discover more about her in the words she uses. Having lived in Wales – North Wales – there were descriptions that stirred memories – for instance:

“The valley narrows as it climbs. Pasture and snippets of woodland on the valley floor. Green fields pasted as high up the mountainsides as technology and climate can take them. The flanks of the hillside are grizzled with the rust-brown of bracken, humped with gorse and hawthorn, slashed with the rocky-white of mountain streams.”

Anybody that has negotiated Welsh roads will recognise the ones that Fiona needs to take on her rural investigation. Throughout, the settings felt realistic as did the way that the plot unfolded. Nothing is ever neat in a Fiona Griffiths case – nor in reality.

You never know what Fiona is going to do next, so the reader needs to keep going – and believing in her and the author. Fiona keeps the tension going with her decisions and actions. I was on the edge of my seat as I read, hoping that Fiona would survive – even if I knew there were sequels. That takes good writing to bring about.

I loved the Welsh attitude, even if not all Welsh people are as forthright as Fiona in saying, “Twll dîn pob Sais.” Later in the novel, she repeats this as a thought and translates -” Every Englishman an arsehole”.

After a stimulating ride for my head, I am ready for the next book, having recommended the first two without reservation – well, if you want a cosy mystery series look elsewhere. I want more of Fiona and her different approach to policing, to life – and I want to know what is at the heart of her behaviour, to discover more about her past.

Note that this was released in 2014, so, this comment from Fiona had me wondering if Harry Bingham was going to get tweeted by the US President;

“My newfound clarity allows me to look at the pole-dancing platform too. It’s got all the class of a Las Vegas casino personally styled by Donald Trump”

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

*

UPDATE: This review had to be edited for Amazon, as it was rejected in this version. I wonder why. Where did I stray from their guidelines? I removed three paragraphs in the hope that might evade the censors – 1. the comment about Englishmen; 2 &3. The paragraphs about Trump. Was it the profanity or the reference to the Twitter Man?

 

Talking to the Dead – a review

Time for another review of a novel linked to my own writing.

Some months ago, my character of D.S. Sparkle Anwyl began to emerge, becoming the detective embroiled in “Seeking A Knife”. However, I had some problems making her believably Welsh. It was no good just living in Snowdonia, I needed more to work with.  So I embarked on extensive research. There was fiction reading as well, since I wanted to avoid plagiarising Welsh detectives, like Constable Evan Evans.

Then I discovered DC Fiona Griffiths and the bar was raised.

 TalkingToTheDead17552649

Talking to the Dead (Fiona Griffiths #1)

by Harry Bingham

The first novel in a powerfully original new crime series featuring a young policewoman haunted by her own dark past.

It’s DC Fiona Griffiths’ first murder case – and she’s in at the deep end. A woman and her six-year-old daughter killed with chilling brutality in a dingy flat. The only clue: the platinum bank card of a long-dead tycoon, found amidst the squalor.

DC Griffiths has already proved herself dedicated to the job, but there’s another side to her she is less keen to reveal. Something to do with a mysterious two-year gap in her CV, her strange inability to cry – and a disconcerting familiarity with corpses.

Fiona is desperate to put the past behind her but as more gruesome killings follow, the case leads her inexorably back into those dark places in her own mind where another dead girl is waiting to be found…

My review:

Fiona ‘Fi’ Griffiths might be a junior officer assigned to a fraud investigation, but she’s willing to manoeuvre herself onto the team investigating the murders in a dingy flat. Her intelligence, among other clever moves and clandestine activities, is a key factor in her unravelling the links between the two cases. I knew that she would struggle until the justice that she demanded was implemented; but I was never quite sure whether she would prevail.

Those brains have earned her a degree, and set her apart from many colleagues. [Note: The College of Policing has proposed that, “Every new constable from 2019 could be required to have a degree – or agree to work towards an equivalent qualification.]

This active mind is a facet of a complex character that is well described through her POV. That voice is distinctive, revealing and never feels like the author. The voice of Fi kept me reading, wanting her to battle through everything thrown at her, some from outside and some from in herself, or in her past.

But it becomes clear from Fi’s words that she struggles to be part of ‘Planet Normal’ and the author makes that part of her engrossing personality. Her weirdness worked for me, leading the reader down murky paths on Cardiff’s darker side, and in her mind.

Fi is not your conventional detective, nor are her methods. She is a complex character and she shoves the investigation in unexpected directions. The author weaves words and phrases with style, bringing this world of Cardiff alive, for me at least. This was a different Wales from the area I know – Snowdonia – and yet there were glimpses of the rural roots at the country’s heart, and those roots are an intrinsic part of Fi.

Some readers have criticised the writer for creating a policewoman that would fail her first psych test. But I’m with those that realise that her intelligence gives Fi the edge in working the system in her favour. There were moments when I felt she might be bending the rules precariously, but she has the ability – and luck – to evade crashing over the precipice, this time. And if she can confuse her colleagues, what chance have the criminals.

The novel is not just about an investigation – that would make this just another crime read. This is about Fi and her personal attitudes, demons, and questions, so I’m full of praise for the way that Harry Bingham pulls this off, especially in the final chapter. A superb read that compels me to read the rest of the series.

*

As for my own detective and similarities, Fi and Sparkle are… a whole country apart, and more. Fi is from South Wales, Sparkle from the North and Snowdonia. Both quirky yes but not in the same way. No University education for Sparkle, she’s got her experience on the beat…and with the bullies at school. Sparkle’s deductive techniques are not Fi’s, although they might work together. And their means of dealing with criminals is very different.

No real comparison, but a definite benchmark.