Harry Bingham

THE DEAD HOUSE – Between the covers

The Dead HouseNewly promoted Detective Sergeant Fiona Griffiths, of South Wales Police, might be said to have a disability. She suffers from…, wait, we mustn’t use the word ‘suffers’, in case of causing offence. ‘Has’, maybe? OK, DS Griffiths has Cotard’s Syndrome. This strange condition can manifest itself in many ways, the most extreme of which convinces the person concerned that they are actually dead. Less extreme symptoms include partial disconnection between brain and body, and some of the traits of Asperger’s Syndrome, such as an inability to read or understand social gestures or convention.

So Fiona has been employed as part of some diversity box-ticking exercise, yes? Nay, and thrice nay. After the horrors of her teenage years, when she was institutionalised and in a pharmaceutical haze, she went to university, excelled, and then joined the police. This might be considered an odd career choice, given that Fiona has an the kind of electric intelligence which might not sit well within staid police procedures, but even more strange because her father was – and let’s not mince words – a notorious Cardiff gangster. Father? Well, no. Another intriguing ambiguity is that Mr Griffiths and his homely wife are not Fiona’s blood parents. Fiona came into their lives when they emerged from a social function to find an infant girl sitting in their Jaguar coupe. No message. No name. No reason.

At this point, it is best to make clear that Fiona’s search for her real ancestry and her ambivalence about her adoptive dad’s occupation are a recurrent theme in the career of Fiona Griffiths. Author Harry Bingham introduced us to this remarkable young woman in Talking To The Dead (2013). This debut was followed by Love Story With Murders (2014), The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (2015) and This Thing Of Darkness (2016).

In this welcome return, Fiona is called to the strangest of crime scenes. Is it a crime scene? Maybe not. A young woman is found, very dead, but dressed in white linen, remarkably peaceful, surrounded by votive lights, and lying on a table in a Dead House – an ancient form of mortuary chapel attached to a medieval church. An autopsy concludes that she died, basically, from heart disease, as young as she was. While the local police are intent on wrapping the case up as unexplained, Fiona is struck by two irreconcilable facts. Why would a woman who has had, according to the autopsy, subtle – and expensive – cosmetic surgery, have stubbly unshaven legs?

The ensuing investigation romps along at great pace, as Fiona – teamed with a grumpy, phlegmatic Camarthen Detective Inspector – uncovers a terrifying conspiracy involving, among other things, Ukranian oligarchs, wild Welshmen who eat badgers, a secret tunnel under a Brecon hillside – and a community of distinctly unsaintly monks.

Just as in This Thing Of Darkness there was a terrifying passage where Fiona was hanging on for dear life to the a boat thrashing about in a storm, there is a section here which will be very hard going for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. Fiona and her temporary boss struggle through a tunnel system under a Welsh hillside, and I felt every second of it – the constriction, the inability to move more than a few inches, and the sheer terror of being in a virtual rock coffin.

Aside of creating a unique central character, Bingham writes like an angel. His descriptions of the Welsh countryside put you right there in the muddy field, with the smell of sheep, and the distant haze of smoke from a hard-scrabble hill farm chimney. Fans of Fiona Griffiths will know that she courts danger, gets herself into the most terrible scrapes, but will come out fighting like a five-foot-nothing whirling Dervish. Her boss says:

And well done, I suppose. I can’t think of any other officer of mine who’d have got themselves into that situation. But I can’t think of anyone who’d have got out of it either.”

I wrote, when reviewing an earlier Fiona Griffiths novel for another book site:

“In a lifetime of reading crime fiction I have never come across anyone quite like Fiona Griffiths …. Read this book. Enjoy every syllable.”

The publishers have used that quote on my edition of The Dead House, and I stand by every word. You won’t read a better book all year.

You can buy The Dead House from Harry Bingham’s Amazon page and check up on the previous adventures of Fiona Griffiths. Harry’s website is here.


ON MY SHELF is a regular feature looking at recent and upcoming books which  will be of interest to crime fans.

JULY 2016


The History of Blood by Paul Mendelson
Sadly, the euphoria over Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation has long since faded, and political and social reality has taken its place. The Republic is one of the most dangerous and crime blighted places in the world, and we take a grim journey through that reality, led by the beleaguered Colonel Vaughn de Vries and Don February of the Special Crimes Unit. Corruption is never far from the surface, and the scars of historic misdeeds are still raw and – in some cases – still bleeding. Buy The History Of Blood here.

When The Music’s Over by Peter Robinson
Twenty three books in, and one of CriFi’s most enduring – if not endearing – glum and introspective coppers, Alan Banks, now promoted to the dizzy heights of Detective Superintendent, shows no signs of retiring. His foil and sometime-soulmate Annie Cabbot is also still going strong, and the pair investigate apparently unconnected crimes. Cabbot’s is the brutal death of a teenage girl, apparently tossed from a moving vehicle like a discarded chocolate bar wrapper, while Banks wades into the murky waters of a historic allegation of sexual abuse involving a celebrity. Buy Peter Robinson’s latest novel here.

The Dead House by Harry Bingham
How can feisty, crazy, fearless and utterly adorable Fiona Griffiths still only be a humble Detective Constable? Only her creator, Harry Bingham, knows, but our girl is back for her fifth battle with the forces of evil. Fi suffers from Cotard’s Syndrome, a bizarre condition which is occasionally incapacitating, but also gifts the sufferer with startling insights. The ‘dead house’ of the title is a place where, in medieval times, corpses were laid prior to burial. A very modern murder challenges Fi, however, and her empathy with the dead takes her into places where modern malice and ancient evil combine to terrifying effect. Check out Harry Bingham’s Amazon page for more information about the startling DC Fiona Griffiths.

The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius
Back now to South Africa. The root of the story lies not in the modern Republic, with all its contradictions and uncertainties, but in the even darker days at the turn of the twentieth century, when the Boer rebellion against British rule was put down with all the ferocity that a colonial power could muster. One of the least honourable contributions to world history by Britain was the invention of the concentration camp. In one such place, a British doctor conducts horrific experiments on prisoners. A century later it becomes horribly obvious that his work did not die with him. A young constable with the South African police becomes drawn into a case which will take her into a world where the reality is even worse than her nightmares. The Monster’s Daughter is out later this month.

A Black Sail by Rich Zahradnick
Despite the name of the main character, Coleridge Taylor, and the evocative cover, this is not a historical novel. OK. it’s set in the 1970s, but maybe that doesn’t count. Coleridge Taylor is a journalist. He is also an ex-cop, dismissed for an over-inventive approach to evidence. It’s the eve of the 1976 bicentennial, and the citizens of The Big Apple are drawn to the waterfront, where a whole fleet of replica tall ships are assembled to add to the spectacle. In this, the third of the series, Coleridge Taylor gets sucked in to a very modern murder mystery involving bricks of heroin, Chinese gangs and the traditional Mafia goons of New York City. A Black Sail will be out in USA later in the year.

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