The police procedural has long been the home of some of the most dysfunctional cops in the land. They seem to gravitate toward whichever force our crime writers choose to write about. You have to wonder sometimes how they manage to survive and indeed some of the more notable have been demoted as a result of the way in which they have bent the rules, if not the law itself, in pursuit of the nation’s baddies. But, of course, they always do eventually catch the baddies, which is why, ultimately, they are forgiven their peccadilloes and allowed to continue in service. They may be bad police officers but they are outstanding cops.
Harry Bingham offers us one of the more recent examples of the breed in the person of DC Fiona Griffiths, whom we first met in Talking to the Dead investigating the death of a young woman and her daughter. Thought, initially, to be only related to drugs and prostitution, the murders ultimately prove to be the tip of a much more far reaching web of intrigue that threatens to undermine many of Cardiff’s less savoury members of society.
Fiona Griffiths is certainly not one for doing things by the book, but in her case there is good reason for her episodes ‘off piste’. Her own back story is one of trauma and serious ill health and maintaining any sort of equilibrium is difficult for her. Indeed, as is so often the case in current crime fiction, following the development of the main character can be as fulfilling as unravelling the intricacies of the investigation and I, at least, welcomed the steps that she takes towards moving to a more stable relationship with the world, her colleagues and, most importantly, herself.
However, Fiona’s personal growth doesn’t detract for a moment from the investigation she finds herself caught up in as South Wales is plunged into the worst winter in living memory. Two bodies are discovered within days of each other and in close proximity. They are further bound together by the fact that they have been disposed of in a very similar manner – dissected and then their various parts distributed around the neighbourhood. What mitigates against their being connected in any way is the fact that one of them has been dead for at least five years, while the other died within the previous week. Furthermore, the more recent victim has been scattered around a local beauty spot while the older body has been concealed in a number of different outhouses and garages. The first necessity is for the police to discover who these two people are and whether or not there is indeed any link between them.
In attempting to unravel this mystery, Fiona is forced to examine her own family’s past. Her adoptive father, who swears he is now going straight, has been a central figure in the Cardiff underworld and still runs certain establishments that Fiona knows it is better that she keeps well clear of. But, it seems that if there is a link between the victims then it may well lie in one of those less than savoury nightclubs. However, she also can’t afford to ignore where the second victim worked and the possibility that what looks like a perfectly ordinary engineering company may in fact be involved in distinctly less than legitimate dealings with the arms trade. As the story develops the plot takes a decidedly political turn and it isn’t that much of a surprise to read in the end papers that it is based on events that actually took place. Unfortunately, the type of underhand dealings that are revealed at the book draws to its close have all too authentic a ring to them.
Bingham starts a lot of hares in this novel and it is to his credit that he never leaves the reader in any way struggling to keep up. Furthermore, he is very good at characterisation. Despite the fact that this is only the second in the series, the main players are already clearly defined in my mind and I am convinced both by them as individuals and by the trajectory their relationships are taking. While I wouldn’t class this as literary fiction in the way I might with something by William Brodrick, for example, I do think that Bingham is amongst the best in his field and I look forward to the next in this series, which I believe is due later this year.
With thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell, who made this available for review.