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by Harry Bingham
Orion, June 2012
384 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 1409140865

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths' colleagues regard her as a little odd - she reveals little of herself, takes unorthodox approaches to her work, and severely damages a man unwise enough to try to grope her. In fact, Fi's narration shows her to be even stranger than they imagine. When a woman and her six-year-old daughter are found murdered in a filthy squat, she feels a strong personal connection and is more than willing to spend time with the bodies of the deceased. But her emotional link generates exceptional initiative and drive in uncovering the background, efforts which make a valuable contribution to solving the case. And in addition, her belief that the dead child is trying to tell her something goes beyond the case and seems somehow connected to the strange turmoil within Fi herself.

TALKING TO THE DEAD is told in the first person present tense, enabling the reader to be privy to Fi's thoughts and giving an immediacy to the action. Fi's dynamism and enthusiasm for making progress with her investigations drive the plot is driven along at a fair pace. At the same time Bingham cleverly reveals elements of Fi's back story - her father's unconventional occupation, her breakdown - in small pieces, always leaving questions that are not completely resolved until the conclusion of the book.

Fi is a satisfactory hero of the classic type in that she is very effective in some areas (research and analysis, intuitive about human relationships, personal defence skills) while having severe problems in others (relating to people, following instructions from her superiors, etc). Readers can marvel at her strengths while at the same time recognising her as flawed and feel sympathetic or superior, according to inclination. Some may feel that the mix of character traits is not altogether realistic. For someone who feels cut off from 'normal' society, for example, her ability to 'read' witnesses seems a little surprising. There is also no doubt that her behaviour is suspiciously coincidental with what is likely to make her popular with readers. She smokes grass, but only for medicinal purposes and only three or four days a week. Has she not read William Blake?

But these are minor quibbles. Fi Griffiths is a resourceful and plucky protagonist, and while often surprising, remains a believable character. Most people will find themselves sympathetic to her difficulties in complying with the restrictions imposed by her boss, notwithstanding that he seems very supportive. In fact everyone turns out to be pretty good, with the exception of the villains, who are about as bad as you could possibly hope for. This is a book for those who like to know where virtue lies.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, May 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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