Wednesday 3 February 2016

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

I've met Fiona Griffiths before, so I already know she's a bit peculiar, that she has Cotards syndrome which means she has a tendency to worry she's not really alive, and struggles to feel the emotions expected in a given situation. This makes her an interesting detective, to say the least. In this book she's a young DC working out of Cardiff when a body is discovered with links to a small case of payroll fraud.      
   The weirdness of the death doesn't immediately seem connected to a wider criminal network, but that is just what it will turn out to be with millions, if not billions of pounds at stake. When another death occurs on the south coast of England, a brutal slaying that screams murder by execution, two police forces join ranks and isn't it just fortunate that Fiona has just done a course in undercover policing.
    National undercover training is the toughest police course on offer and most who attempt it fail. Not our Fiona though and her weird mental condition is probably helpful here; she can always step outside herself, and not being good at connecting with her feelings is for once a good thing.
    The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths is in part a testimony to the life of the under-cover police officer, making it much more than your standard crime novel. Although there's plenty to keep you on your toes, the story is more measured than your usual whodunnit. Fiona has to develop her legend: in this case she is to be Fiona Grey from Manchester, where she's escaped an abusive relationship, is living in a hostel while working as a cleaner. Her caseworker has ambitions for Fiona though, encouraging her to apply for and gain a position as a payroll officer. She finds work at Western Vale.
    We get to know all about this alter-ego, see her find a flat and to come home to find one Vic Henderson in her only armchair. And suddenly Fiona is part of the gang, falsifying payroll data to create bogus accounts which don't particularly seem to be all that lucrative. We can only guess that this is a small part of a much bigger swindle. Henderson is not the boss, but he is in charge of 'security' and becomes Fiona's intermediary with the big boys. They don't exactly hit it off, he's menacing for all his attempts at charm, but there is a whiff of chemistry.
    Fiona Grey is easily bullied, and there's a touch of Stockholm Syndrome in the way she gets on with Henderson. Meanwhile Fiona Griffiths is trying to remember what it is like to be with her boyfriend Buzz, the best thing that has ever happened to her. As the months go on, Fiona struggles to remember who she really is and there is a wonderful tension in the way she has to rally herself to be the police officer she needs to be to wind up the case and see justice served.
    The novel builds up to a tense and exciting showdown where all of Fiona's policing instincts return as well as that mental toughness of hers that can take over when she needs it. It's a great story brilliantly told in that immediate first person, present tense that works so well with a character like this. This really is one of the more promising crime series around and I'll be catching up with Fiona again for sure.

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