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Author of the Month

Name: Harry Bingham

First Novel: The Money Makers

Most Recent Book: Talking to the Dead

'‘Talking to the Dead’ is an innovative book that tackles the crime novel from a different angle.'

Synopsis:
DC Fiona Griffiths has a reputation for being a lose cannon having nearly crippled a man she was questioning who tried to grope her. He won’t do that again in a hurry. Her superior officer, DCI Jackson believes she is a worthy police officer and has gained a place on his team, but knows Griffiths needs a close eye on her.

When Janet Mancini and her six year old daughter, April are found murdered in a filthy flat Griffiths strongly feels the cries of the innocent. Janet Mancini was a heroin addict who had tried to clean her act and had been living decently for some time. So why, just weeks before her death, did Janet move her and her daughter in to a hovel and hide away? What was she scared of? Whatever it was finally caught up with her and Griffiths is determined that she will personally find out who killed them both in such a horrific manner.

And then there is the other case – the embezzler and ex-cop Penry who appears to have had links with the dead millionaire, Rattigan. And the supposedly dead man’s body was never found, evidently currently languishing at the bottom of the Severn estuary. So what is Penry’s link to Rattigan and why was the dead man’s Platinum card found in a hovel with two dead bodies a year after his death? Griffith tries to play by the rules but soon her maverick side can no longer be kept in check.

Review:
‘Talking to the Dead’ heralds the introduction of DC Griffiths who is anything but a normal Detective Constable. From the beginning there are those two mysterious years when Fiona Griffiths vanished from the rest of the world. Automatically I was intrigued and felt that I was reading something that was slightly out of the norm. Although he has written several novels, this is Bingham’s first attempt at a crime novel – and it is a remarkable novel, indeed.

You can tell that Bingham has a flare for character as each one is individually and carefully drawn. The book is written in the first person present tense so that you are inside Griffiths mind hearing her thoughts and point of view – and you can tell pretty much from the beginning that Griffiths has definite issues to contend with which include herself and the way the rest of the world works. I feel Bingham was brave to write in this manner as it did take a while to settle in to the novel, but with the ending it all comes full circle.

Bingham drops hints as to what it is that could be afflicting Griffiths and there is a disturbing scene when Griffiths is in the morgue with the victims – to her they are so much more than simply dead. But before you start believing Griffiths ‘see’s dead people’, think again. There is a double whammy to the end of ‘Talking to the Dead’ which explains Griffiths’ behaviour but the other revelation also opens the door to another mystery that Bingham has said will be explored in subsequent books. ‘Talking to the Dead’ is an innovative book that tackles the crime novel from a different angle. That is to be applauded and I am sure that Griffiths is certainly a detective that will appeal to many readers of the crime genre. Exceptional.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) You have written several works of fiction and non-fiction already but this is your first crime fiction novel. What made you move in to crime fiction?
Two things, I suppose, one practical, one not. The practicality was simply that writing is a tough game at which to make a living. My thought was that if I could create and establish a series character, I’d have something a little bit like job security for the first time in more than a decade.

But mostly it was something less easily explained than that: my character, Fiona Griffiths, just took me over. Her voice, her character, her secrets, her investigative passions took up residence in my skull and made themselves at home. They’re still here now (and they’re rubbish at housework.)
2) Why did you decide to base you new book and character, Fiona Griffiths in Wales?
I’m not Welsh, but I spent huge chunks of my childhood in Wales, and I’ve got family there now. Given that I live in Oxfordshire, I felt I had only two real choices about where to set a crime novel: Oxford and South Wales. Since Oxford is pretty much murdered out, it was an easy call for me to choose Wales.

Wales also works because of its wonderfully dual nature. Cardiff is both a national capital and a mid-sized provincial city. Wales is both ancient – remote, rural, Arthurian, mythic – and intensely modern. Those dualities make it a brilliant setting for the ambiguities of crime.
3) Fiona is a very complex person and quite unpopular with her colleagues. Why did you make her such an outsider?
I think – I hope – it follows from the logic of her character. Fiona is very bright and very strange. She’s not a natural fit for the slightly macho environment of any police force. So although she loves what she does (and moved into the CID as soon as she could), she will inevitably feel herself a bit on the edge of things.

I suppose I also think that the most interesting detectives in crime fiction have been outsiders: Holmes, for example, or Marlowe. Its part of what we ask of crime fiction: that it analyse, somewhat from the outside, the society we live in. Have we ever been fully engaged by a detective who played a full and easy part in society? I doubt it.
4) You have written ‘Talking to the Dead’ in the first person. Why did you decide on this style?
The book is first person, present tense: as up close and personal as you can get. One of my readers commented in an Amazon review, that the ‘main character is so real you feel her heart beating madly in your own chest.’ I love that: it’s exactly the effect I wanted to achieve.
5) There is a twist in the book about Fiona herself. Without giving it away do you intend to expand on this in future books?
Oh yes! There are two twists really. One tells you something key about Fiona: the thing that contains the clue to so much else in her odd personality. The second twist unveils a mystery which will engage Fiona’s attention properly in the novels to come. So each novel from now on will have a kind of double storyline. There’ll be a whodunit for Fiona to solve – and an investigation into her own past to pursue.

It’s a delight for a writer to be able to play with those dual strands, but it’s also a completely logical structure for a crime story. Crime writing is all about mystery and detection, so it makes sense for the detective to be at the heart of a mystery.
6) What did you find were the differences when planning ‘Talking to the Dead’ as to when planning for a mainstream novel?
Not so much really. In the end, every decent novel needs a strong story, a strong character and good writing. But crime does need a very careful plot architecture: one that needs to be both more complex and more precise than for a regular novel.

And of course, you don’t want a crime novel just to be an exercise in logic. So you have to make sure that your story and the logic of the investigation are neatly dovetailed. I think I was fortunate with Talking to the Dead that those things flowed quite naturally. My second Fiona Griffiths novel (which is currently with the publisher for release next year) proved more of a challenge in terms of those things, but I think I got there in the end.
7) What do you believe drives a novel – plot or character?
It’s conventional to say both, but actually for me the answer simply varies. Anything that has Fiona Griffiths as a protagonist is character-driven for sure: Fiona would make stuff happen in an empty room. But I can think of others of my books which were certainly plot led. And not worse, not better. Just different.
8) When not writing you run ‘The Writer’s Workshop’ which is an editorial consultancy for first time writers. Can you tell us more about it?
Sure thing. If you’re an aspiring writer and you’ve written a book you want to feedback on, then we can provide it. Our editors are all either pro authors or former commissioning editors from major publishing houses. We’re good at what we do and when/if work becomes strong enough to sell, we help place it with literary agents. You can get more info at Writers Workshop. We also offer writing courses and an amazing annual festival of writing.
9) If you had a gun to your head (metaphorically) who in your mind’s eye would play Fiona Griffiths?
Ha! Well obviously I have Angelina Jolie on one line, Claire Danes on the other, and Scarlett Johansson has been pestering me so much I’ve had to take out a restraining order.

In a perfect world, I’d like an actor who wasn’t too glam, too pretty. The ideal would be someone like Anna Friel. Intense, intelligent, small and carrying more than a whiff of danger. They need to look convincing when kicking ass.
10) What would you say would be your top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Interesting question. I’d have to say Raymond Chandler, of course. He didn’t just revolutionise the detective novel; he transformed the language. Every modern thriller writer is in his debt.

I’d also have to mention the Martin Beck novels of Sjowall and Wahloo. I don’t think the books are all that good, in a way – they’re not a patch on Chandler – but I liked their seriousness of purpose. The idea that crime writing could and should do something.

Then – hum – I think I’ll have to choose Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, because there are some pretty clear overlaps between Lisbeth Salander and Fiona Griffiths. It’s not exactly that Salander influenced Fiona – I’d already written half the book by the time I read Larsson – but I do remember realising that for the first time in my life I had written a book that felt contemporary. I don’t know why, but the world seems ready for strong, tough, kooky female characters and Larsson was unquestionably the one who blazed that trail.