I didn’t do justice to my notes below — just took too many of them –but I’m hoping I did justice to the book. If there’s something you think needs expanding — well, that’s just one reason for the comment section…
I think police rules matter and I’ll try to abide by them. But the dead matter more. Their rules are sacred and they last for ever.
For a change, Fiona Griffiths is making a serious, concerted effort to act the way that a Detective Constable is supposed to — crossing Ts, dotting Is, using warrants, court orders, rules of evidence, and so on — I’m not saying she’s successful at it, but she made an effort. Sure, she had to set the rules to the side in the beginning, and the had to put them in the dustbin towards the end — but during that middle part? She came awfully close to being a proper DC from Planet Normal.
So, Fiona is assigned to help out in Evidence Collection — going through all the gathered evidence, cataloging, tracking, documenting the chain of custody, etc. for a major sexual assault case. She has no use for the lead investigator — and the feeling is mutual — but she’s quite skilled at this sort of thing, so she has to stay on the case. Meanwhile, she’s also studying for the Detective Sergeant’s exam (or she’s supposed to be) — her superiors have very high expectations for her. Oh, and she’s been given a stack of cold cases to leaf through to keep her mind engaged. Two of this stack of cases catch her eye — and because she’s Fiona Griffiths, it turns out that her curiosity was piqued by cases that turn out to be more than anyone expected.
In one case, some very valuable art was stolen from the second floor of a home — all the security was located on the first floor, and there’s absolutely no indication that the first floor was accessed at all. Yet (with no obvious sign of break in), the second floor was picked pretty clean. There’s also an accidental death as the result of a fall from a rocky path near a cliff where a man who’d been drinking was walking at night. It’s not long before she’s able to demonstrate one solid explanation for the break-in, why it happened the way it did; she’s able to demonstrate that the accidental death wasn’t one, and is able to identify similar crimes. From there…well, things get complicated.
On the one hand, what Fiona and her colleagues uncovers is one of the most outlandish, hard to believe schemes I can remember in crime fiction. On the other hand, I just know that there are probably actual crimes that make this look pedestrian, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are real life analogues to the crimes in this book. Also, when Fiona starts putting pieces together and explaining things to her superiors, it all makes sense in a way that you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out a dozen pages before her.
Naturally, this book puts Fiona in a couple of very difficult situations — and both make what she’s gone through before seem somewhat tame. Part of this takes place on a fishing boat in the Atlantic — I make no bones about it, I need to be on land. I cannot handle being on anything in the ocean for longer than…4 minutes. Reading those portions of this book were pure horror for me. I’m not going to slap a Trigger Warning on this or anything, but you might want to consider popping a Dramamine. Watching Fiona endure these extremes, while keeping her wits (mostly?) about her, planning her way out of them, and dealing with her mental health issues — it makes for great reading. Pure and simple.
Meanwhile, Fiona is making strides in her personal life, growing as a person — finding her relationships with her exes evolve and mature. Forging new relationships, realizing how to recognize attraction to someone, forging friendships, etc. She is getting closer to her goal (whether or not she’ll ever reach it, I don’t know, but she’s closer) of a “normal” life. Also, thanks to the mentorship and guidance (frequently firm) of her superiors, she’s advancing at work. Sure, she spends a lot of time stuck processing evidence — but that just adds fuel to her creative fire when she is investigating and coming up against brick walls. Also, the last chapter features some of the most overtly “fun” writing in the series — and that’s due to the relationships with her superiors developing the way they do.
It would’ve been very easy for Bingham to crank out a few books about the quirky and charmingly unbalanced Fiona acting like a maverick cop, investigating on her own and finding ways to justify everything for the brass. Instead, we see Fiona wrestling with her condition, making progress (and then regressing) with it — yet finding ways to integrate professionally and personally with others.
Not only that, but Fiona makes significant progress on the two ongoing investigations she’s been handling on her own since the first book — there’s been some incremental progress when it comes to tracing her personal history, and her campaign to learn more about those who were tied to the ringleader in Talking to the Dead in the last couple of books — but she makes strides greater than I really ever wondered if she would in this book — and I know she’s not done yet.
That reminds me — this novel revisits (in at least some small way) the victims and perpetrators of the cases in the firs three books in the series. Not many mysteries do that, but Bingham makes sure that Fiona can’t shake the ghosts of the cases she’s worked — no matter how they resolved.
There’s really very little that Bingham and Fiona don’t do well in this layered novel — whether we’re dealing with one of the many criminal investigations, her personal grown, or just understanding herself better, this book does a great job with everything. I am always forgetting how much I like these books, and just how good Bingham is — I’m not sure why it’s something I need reminding of. The balance of mystery, thriller, and character study is really outstanding. Obviously, if you watch Fiona’s growth from the get go, you will appreciate what happens in these pages better. But this would work as a jumping on point, too.