The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

Article published on July 27, 2015.

This is the third in the series by Harry Bingham about his eponymous heroine detective Fiona Griffiths. I came to this book fresh without having met Fiona in the two previous novels, however I was immediately enraptured as the setting is in the city of my youth, Cardiff…thus I could recognize the streets and areas which added a sense of place to this interesting detective tale.

Told from Fiona’s viewpoint the story contains many twists and turns around the complex plot of a large computer payroll fraud. Starting small in a local Newport business it is clear that the fraud has huge tentacles throughout the country and beyond. With the early appearance of several bodies our detective soon has opportunities to use her immense talents. The intriguing title cleverly reflects the fact that our heroine has to adopt a variety of undercover guises to the extent where she appears to lose her original identity.

The novel does contain many of the familiar characteristics of the detective genre:

  • A flawed central detective, in this case with a past of childhood abandonment and bouts of schizophrenia
  • The love interest of a fellow detective that offers the opportunity of normality
  • The rebellious nature of Fiona and her willingness to break the rules in the pursuit of justice
  • The almost superhuman qualities required at the end of the novel to overcome great physical challenges.
  • The use of timely coincidences to set up the forward movement of the plot—this is perhaps best shown by the fortuitous undercover training Fiona takes just prior to being selected for her dangerous mission.

However in spite of, or maybe because of, these familiar characteristics the author does create a central character we believe in and trust, her schizophrenia actually enables her to become a very adept undercover officer as she switches and inhabits her different characters.

The plot does unwind with careful attention to detail and changes of pace as Fiona moves more deeply into the world of the villains. In doing so we meet a believable set of peripheral characters who move the story along at crucial points. Fiona’s father with his mysterious criminal past comes in and out of the story offering a sense of her unusual past. The senior officers who support and challenge Fiona are also important in bringing a sense of police procedures that need to be followed, but which our heroine tends to ignore. Most importantly we meet Henderson, the face of the villains, he is quite capable of extreme violence but also shares several moments of peace and calm as he trusts Fiona and begins to be drawn to her, as she is to him.

The story, mainly based around Fiona and Henderson does generally move with pace to a final, violent ending which also leaves tempting hints at Fiona’s next tale. However I did feel the novel might have benefited from several judicious cuts in order to eliminate some slowing down of the story, particularly around the incidents following Fiona’s arrest.

Having said that I did enjoy this addition to the already quite crowded detective field. An unusual central female character, with an interesting past and a believable plot line did make for an entertaining read. I have now ordered the first two episodes of Fiona’s career and look forward to the next edition –hoping of course that the action continues to take place in Cardiff!

Gerard Murphy
Personal Read 4
Group Read   3

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham is published in pbk by Orion on March 26th, 2015

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