Talking to the Dead is the first in the Fiona Griffith’s crime fiction series by Harry Bingham. I first heard of the series thanks to Orion Crime – a Twitter account I highly recommend to fellow fans – when they were promoting the second book on the series, Love Story, With Murders. So, after some research I contacted the lovely Sophie Painter who was kind enough to send me review copies for both books. Big thank you!
SHE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE. . . .
At first, the murder scene appears sad, but not unusual: a young woman undone by drugs and prostitution, her six-year-old daughter dead alongside her. But then detectives find a strange piece of evidence in the squalid house: the platinum credit card of a very wealthy—and long dead—steel tycoon. What is a heroin-addicted hooker doing with the credit card of a well-known and powerful man who died months ago? This is the question that the most junior member of the investigative team, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, is assigned to answer. But D.C. Griffiths is no ordinary cop. She’s earned a reputation at police headquarters in Cardiff, Wales, for being odd, for not picking up on social cues, for being a little over intense. And there’s that gap in her past, the two-year hiatus that everyone assumes was a breakdown. But Fiona is a crack investigator, quick and intuitive. She is immediately drawn to the crime scene, and to the tragic face of the six-year-old girl, who she is certain has something to tell her . . . something that will break the case wide open.
One of the first things that called my attention about Talking to the Dead was its unusual path. While most crime novels have a quick start to catch the readers’ attention, this novel was somehow different. The crime was not something too mysterious or creepy, so from the very beginning I knew it would make a different reading than I expected. I had also heard that D.C Fiona Griffiths was “a psychopath” and was very interested in how she would interact with the crimes. It turned out I was right about the novel being different, but Fiona was not the psychopath someone had made me believe on Twitter.
As you may have imagined, the main focus of the book is Fiona rather than the case itself. Of course, she is consumed by the killings and she finds herself too involved as it is customary in nowadays good crime fiction. But Talking to the Dead is more of a study character. Your attention is directed towards Fiona whether you like it or not and the crimes somehow become secondary. Fiona is the mystery herself and as a consequence, the crime is deeply affected. Rather than a whodunit, this novel is what I would call who-is-she: it is through Fionna that we get to know about the crime and it is always her perspective we get, but she is the only main character and the only mystery the reader feels interested in. As a consequence, the crime she investigates becomes secondary in a bad way, but I think Fiona’s complexities pay off and help balance the narrative. One of the most important features of crime fiction is how it exposes society’s flaws and such flaws do not become secondary on the narrative: prostitution and drug-using are explored – among many other problems.
So, as a consequence of Fiona being the narrative, Talking to the Dead is an emotionally taxing novel. Her flaws, complexities and problems can be very easy to identify with in smaller-scale levels. For example, anxiety, destroying self-doubts, insomnia, too much work etc are always present and if you ever suffered from any of these problems, they will hit home and maybe too close to make you feel comfortable with the narrative. I could so easily relate to Fiona’s lack of sleep and being overworked because I had felt so myself during finals week back in university. But I do not intend to make this a negative feature, on the contrary, I found the prose so powerful and realistic that it could easily have emotional consequences for readers.
If you have read my whole review you may have noticed it was not a great reading, but it was not a bad one either. Talking to the Dead is a crime novel with some very interesting psychological insight into a given problem. It does make a good reading, but not a great one. However, I am eager to read the second installment and see how Fiona as a character – a young, female detective – is doing, but it is for her that I will read the novel rather for the crime.