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.
Talking to the Dead (Fiona Griffiths #1)
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…
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.