Talking to the Dead

2 Mins read

Written by Harry Bingham — DC Fiona Griffiths is a complete oddity in the ranks of the South Wales Police. She studied philosophy at Cambridge, neither smokes nor drinks, has a father with a distinctly criminal background and appears to be like a fish out of water in the male-dominated atmosphere of the briefing room. When DCI Jackson drafts her in to help with Operation Lohan – an investigation into the death of a local prostitute and her six-year-old daughter – she quickly exasperates him with her quirky approach to questioning witnesses.

A debit card belonging to a dead businessman has been found amongst the debris in the murdered woman’s room, and when Fiona is despatched to make routine enquiries of the man’s widow, her intuition tells her that the case is more complex than it first appears. She quickly makes connections between Operation Lohan, sex trafficking, and the apparently unrelated case of a bent ex-policeman who is awaiting trial for embezzlement. Fiona is paired with DS Jane Alexander to interview scared and beaten prostitutes.

The real bite delivered by this book comes from Fi Griffiths herself. She evidently suffered a serious mental condition in her teens, and has insights which frequently startle and puzzle her more prosaic colleagues. She is frequently confused by normal social and conversational responses, almost as if she has some type of Asperger’s syndrome, but she is smart enough to develop strategies to cope with this. The narrative is entirely first-person, but there are some engaging secondary characters, including DCI Jackson, who is by turns exasperated and amazed by his impulsive junior, and DS David Brydon who finds Fi attractive but something of an enigma.

Harry Bingham’s real achievement here is not in writing an enthralling account of good people trying to combat exploitation, greed and cynicism. It is not simply that he has painted a heartbreaking portrait of the glib ease with which youth can be corrupted. It is not just that his economical but telling descriptions of the South Wales townscapes, riverfronts and hillsides provide a perfect setting for the action. His real triumph is the sleight of hand he uses to bring us closer to Fi Griffiths. We learn about her condition not through lengthy explanation but through subtle snatches of dialogue, stray thoughts and her seemingly random moments of confusion or self-awareness. He cleverly leaks information about Fi, chapter by chapter, and has several surprises up his sleeve. There are few laughs in this book, but I loved the relationship between Fi and her ‘Yummy Mummy’ partner, Jane. Each is intimidated by the other, and this is described with perception and wry humour.

The book is beautifully written. It’s a tour de force, and for me the book of the year so far, without question. The plot is plausible without being predictable, and the dialogue is terse and smart as a tack. The book ends with one final, rather sweet, surprise, but as Fi’s efforts to unravel the mystery gather pace, the standard elements of the action thriller are handled expertly.

Make no mistake – this is much, much more than a crime thriller. Talking to the Dead is first and foremost the tale of  a courageous, vulnerable, slightly crazy, but compassionate and intelligent young woman who is trying to succeed in a pedestrian and procedure-dominated organisation. The author has created a fascinating and utterly captivating character. I was slightly puzzled by her in the opening pages, but as Bingham allowed her to reveal more about herself, I became totally gripped, and in the end I would have charged down the valley towards the guns on her behalf.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related posts

The Last to Disappear by Jo Spain

Jo Spain’s fingers have been on fire since her first novel in 2015. There’s the highly rated Tom Reynolds series, a clutch of clever standalones, several screenwriting projects (Taken Down and Harry Wild) and now a new international mystery. The Last to Disappear is set…

The Cook by Ajay Chowdhury

It is just a year since we met Kamil Rahman, once an up-and-coming detective in the Kolkata police force, more recently a lowly waiter in an Indian restaurant in Brick Lane, London, in the award-winning debut The Waiter. Now Kamil is back – and he’s…

City on Fire by Don Winslow

Organised crime and corruption are constants in Don Winslow novels, but rarely has he roamed the classic gangster territory of the northeastern United States. Nor has he previously underpinned his storytelling with classical inspiration – in this case dating back to Ancient Greece. City on…
Crime Fiction Lover