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Thursday 22 June 2017

‘The Deepest Grave’ by Harry Bingham

Published by Orion,
15 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5279-8 (PB)

The maverick cop is a staple of crime fiction, but once in a while the avid reader comes across a protagonist who takes the description to a whole new level. Detective Sergeant Fiona Griffiths of the South Wales Police goes even further; she's a loner (though growing less so as the series progresses), a disciplinary nightmare (and growing more so, ditto) and often a danger to herself, but she's so brilliant and so successful that senior officers who can't work with her get themselves transferred so she can stay with Major Crime and solve the tricky cases.

The Deepest Grave is her sixth adventure (a word Fiona also takes to a whole new level), and the case is so complex and bizarre that author Harry Bingham almost has to apologize in a note at the end. Only almost; he explains his reasoning, and I for one was completely convinced.

Whether or not you'll be convinced by Fiona depends on your view of crime fiction. If you like the gritty, down-to-earth, every-day-on-the-streets kind: the Chandleresque model, as Bingham describes it – well, there's a certain amount of that. But her real appeal is probably to the Sherlock Holmes school of fandom: unlikely plots with plenty of twists and turns and off-the-wall happenings, and an investigation which follows a path for which only Fiona has a map, and owes nothing to either convention or procedure.

In Fiona's cases, there's a body round every corner, a surprise every fifty pages or so, and half-clues dropped liked confetti for the reader to pick up and tuck away for later. Fiona herself is a one-off to beat all one-offs, and gathers around herself an unlikely crew of allies: in this case a PhD student with motor neurone disease, a gun-toting Welsh vicar and his dog, a verbose church librarian and a group of archaeologists. Oh, and her dad, possibly Wales's most notorious unconvicted master criminal. The boss who appreciates her unique qualities is away, and she falls foul of a detective inspector who plays very much by the rules; at once point I wondered if she was about to decamp to Oxford to escape his rod of iron.

And the crime? To describe it would give too much away. Suffice to say it starts with a murder involving a sword, three spears and an ancient box with a distinctive design. There's burglary, a hostage situation, forgery of a very specialized kind, and a lot of action which requires swift travel from one part of the UK to another to get there before the bad guys. Fortunately Fiona drives very fast indeed.

Immersing myself in one of Fiona's cases is like visiting another world. It's not always comfortable, but it's invariably utterly amazing. As Harry Bingham says himself, you never know quite where the story will end up. And that, surely, is the true meaning of mystery.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Harry Bingham is the author of the Fiona Griffiths series of crime novels, set in Cardiff and featuring a heroine described by the Sunday Times as 'The most startling protagonist in modern crime fiction ... brutal, freakish and totally original.' Harry - slightly less freakish than his creation - lives in Oxford with his wife and young family. He also runs The Writers' Workshop, an editorial consultancy for new writers. His books on Getting Published and How to Write are among the leading titles in their field. H enjoys rock-climbing, walking, and swimming.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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