Sex trafficking, Class A narcotics, brutal murder, maiming and city grit – all elements of the classic crime thriller in place. Maverick cop. Tick. Mixed cultures in a dockland community. Tick. Patriarchal culture and hierarchy in policing. Tick. So far so everyday crime fiction. But…chief protagonist Fiona Griffiths is a breath of fresh air. She’s a junior CID. She is not a hard drinker – almost teetotal in fact (though she does like to potter in her garden shed). She loves her car and its capacity for speed. She is difficult but not in a Rebus kind of way. Griffiths has less of the damaged, more of the gifted about her. And she has one of the best back stories I’ve encountered in this genre. Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths crime thrillers are a joy to read and its no surprise that he finds Griffiths so easy to write. Bingham, based in Oxford, says he loves writing her and that she simply takes over. She is indeed very real, slightly shifty and in certain circumstances, absolutely lethal.
In the first of the series Talking to the Dead, the brutal murder by sink (yes sink) of a child in Cardiff’s historic Butetown area, along with that of her mother by the more traditional means of heroin, are Griffiths finds, linked to a millionaire shipping boss. Two, even three, mysteries in one story unfold. The greatest mystery is perhaps Fiona’s past and the condition she just manages to keep at bay. Bingham’s knowledge of Cardiff, its hinterland and the permeability of the Welsh coast is impressive enough for him to also seemlessly fabricate a few fictional locations that fit glove-like into the real Wales. He undoubtedly has insider information. The ringers and racketeers here conjure the last days of the docks on the cusp of regeneration and echo the handful of linked business interests and families whose tentacles extended through much of the relatively small scale but nonetheless organised crime and criminality that bubbled beneath the surface of the city in the early 80s.
As much as he captures the city’s recent past, Bingham places Griffiths’ life and career very much present day. However shiny the regenerated city, there is still enough to keep her busy and pique her interest. Fiona is not exactly a committed team player which can cause strife for her superiors – but then what fun is there for a copper without a little strife? If you are intrigued by the trials of a committed junior CID officer who is never sure if she’s truly alive, then seek out the series. But watch your kneecaps.