Love Story, With Murders is the second installment on the Fiona Griffiths series by Harry Bingham. This was the title that first called my attention and after some researched asked the publisher for a review copy of both books. I was not thrilled with the first one, Talking to the Dead, but decided to give the series a second chance.
The second novel featuring recovering psychotic DC Fiona Griffiths opens with as intriguing a pair of murders as you could imagine. Firstly, part of a human leg is discovered in a woman’s freezer, bagged up like a joint of pork. Other similarly gruesome discoveries follow throughout a cosy Cardiff suburb, with body parts turning up in kitchens, garages and potting sheds. And while the police are still literally putting the pieces together, concluding that they all belong to a teenage girl killed some ten years earlier, parts of another body suddenly start appearing, but this time discarded carelessly around the countryside clearly very shortly after the victim – a man – was killed.
Mysteries don’t come much more macabre or puzzling than this. Who were the two victims, and what connection could they have shared that would result in this bizarre double-discovery?
But that’s only half the story. The most gruesome moments are much more about Fiona and her curious mental state. There is a complex and very clever double mystery here, and what makes the story unique is the parallel unraveling of Fiona’s own mystery, and it’s her voice, established precisely in the first book but given even freer rein here, that makes it so compelling.
One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind while reading is that it is a better book than the first one. Talking to the Dead felt more a character study than a traditional crime novel, but now that the reader is familiar with Fiona Griffiths, it is easier to present a more mysterious and complex case. Actually, if I had to rate the cases in both books, I would not give more than 5/10 to the first one, but would give a 8/10 to the one in Love Story, With Murders. But Fiona Griffiths is still the main focus of attention and sometimes the case seems secondary, very much reflecting how work might feel for many of us: it is there, it quite define us, but it is secondary.
But, I have one big issue with both books and it partly has to do with Fiona. I am a huge fan of female detectives/doctors and I find most of them inspiring: they eat whenever they can, they work sleep-deprived and they all love their jobs. I can myself at ease reading about their lives, but Fiona was different and I could finally point out what made me uneasy. In Talking to the Dead, I knew there was something that did not click with me regarding Fiona, but had no idea what it was until I read this book and I could finally see it: Fiona is constantly living her life according to two men who dominate her life. Her father. And -who else?- her boyfriend. Her father plays the protective role: he takes care of her and, because he is a wealthy and well-known criminal in Wales, he can arrange things so that criminals talk to his daughter a thing that, otherwise, they would not do. He also pays for her cars and helped her buy her own house. One might think that this is only a supportive, wealthy father helping her daughter, but it feels patronising. And it feels more so when Fiona is constantly worried on playing the role of perfect girlfriend to her boyfriend and not only that, but also constantly asking herself why he is dating her, because she is so awful! I felt a wave of nausea as a I read how she played picture-perfect housewife ala Bree Van de Kamp and how she kept telling herself she needed to play that role. The worst thing is that her boyfriend loves it. And the icing on the cake was the fight her boyfriend had with an old friend of hers (and how she enjoyed that he was so violent over protecting her) because he came un-announced and thought she was cheating on him. To fix everything, both men went to the bar to have a drink together while Fiona stayed at home – where else? – all worried, cleaning and a never wreck. During this scene I really considered to stop reading, but it was so close to the end, I decided to finish reading so I did not compromise my review.
So, Love Story, With Murders only helped me point out what I did not like about the series and has made me question whether I will read the next Fiona Griffiths novel. If the cases get better, I will probably read it, but as a commute reading. Actually, it made a great commute reading for my first week back to school: the style is easy and simple and not much attention is needed to follow the case. Also, the Welsh landscape is a joy to read about: the novel takes place in autumn/winter and there is a lot of snow, rain, low temperatures and coats. It made my almost tropical week better only to read about it!
On the whole, not an extraordinary crime novel although totally failing at women’s representation.