Written by Harry Bingham — This sixth book in the series featuring one of crime fiction’s most compelling heroines opens with DS Fiona Griffiths bored as hell in her Cardiff nick. It has been 453 days since her last proper corpse when, oh joy of joys, a middle-aged archaeologist is beheaded with an antique broadsword and three spears are planted deep in her chest.
The much-respected victim Gaynor Charteris was directing a dig at an Iron Age site. Fiona befriends PhD student Katie at the dig. The pair are soon delving into the rich lore of Arthurian legend and chasing a trail of bizarre thefts of documents and antiquities, across the Welsh countryside. They enlist the help of a suitably eccentric minster and sheep farmer and Fiona’s criminal, but splendidly honourable stepfather.
As the bodies of other seemingly benign victims pile up after suffering violent theatrical deaths, Fiona and her comrades follow outlandish clues in a bizarre quest involving the myth of King Arthur that threatens all their lives. The baddies are pulling their strings, but the cannabis-smoking Fiona is convinced the deaths are linked to artefacts from the dark past. As she fears the biggest crime is yet to be committed she realises she has played right into their hands.
As the inquiry becomes even weirder Fiona’s new boss, the jobs-worth ‘by the book’ DI Bleddyn Jones, now head of the Major Crimes Unit in Cardiff, has no truck with her unconventional lines of enquiry nor her maverick nature.
Among her many foibles, she likes to spend time Talking with the Dead and has empathy and compassion for them without resorting to sentimentality. She sneaks into the morgue to hold Gaynor Chateris’s body and talks to her severed head, to feel her story. It sounds very bizarre, but the way Harry Bingham tells it somehow this seems reasonable. It is also revealed that Fiona suffers from Cotard’s Syndrome, an illness where sufferers believe themselves to be dead.
There’s a tender friendship between Fiona and Katie, who is slowly dying and Fiona is loyal to her friend, even though being around her makes her ill too. What makes this series even greater than the sum of its parts, is the subtle development of the characters’ stories and how they give up their secrets slowly.
This is the first time I have met the rude, outspoken, abrasive, but intuitive detective and as I got to know her I loved her. The stranger she is, the more real she appears.
The Deepest Grave embraces an exotic and incredible plot and is sheer entertainment, no matter how unbelievable. Perhaps it is our human need for belief and the potency and power of relics that enables us to suspend our disbelief. Bingham claims that on the balance of probabilities, King Arthur did exist. The themes of loyalty, justice and greed are timeless and powerful in any case and used well.
Find out more about Harry Bingham and his dark and edgy writing in our exclusive interview.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars