Review of This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Bingham

Fiona Griffiths excels contemporary police detectives, even such high-maintenance items as Tana French’s Cassie Maddox & Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint, in psychological complexity. When young she suffered from a mental illness called Cotard’s Syndrome, characterized by the delusion that she was actually dead. This has left her conscious of being able to get directly in touch with murder victims, an appropriate affinity for a criminal investigator that gives her a more than routine desire to see the victims’ killers brought to justice. With the help of a psychological counselor who was also her first love, Fiona was able to overcome her affliction sufficiently to lead a more-or-less regular life & took a degree in philosophy @ Cambridge. Her choice of a career with the South Wales police force seems a deliberately contrarian choice to go against the grain – she was reared in the wealthy family of a successfully retired Cardiff crime lord (who provides Fiona with not only private means but her own personal unarmed combat instructor, a veteran of the Russian special forces). Like Cassie and Lacey, Fiona combines a strong independent steak that makes her instantly ready to cast her police career to the winds with a strong desire to prove trustworthy & to see justice done, whatever it takes, whatever the risks.

The ongoing background: as with many series police detectives, with Fi there are several mysteries unfolding simultaneously. Her father-the-crime-lord is apparently her foster father; she was 1st discovered @ age two sitting in the backseat of his Jaguar. There are also her relationships, with Ed the ex-counselor whom she pops in on when she needs a little steadying, Lev her combat trainer, who’s one of those boring characters who speaks English with Russian grammar, & the annoyingly named Buzz(!), an ex-Parachute Regiment policemen with whom Fi came to close to settling down in the second (& to my mind weakest) book in the series, but fortunately has been effectively written out of the story in this one. I think the author has realised that as a totally unstable personality, Fi ought to have but transitory affairs. (Also, readers like me who fall for her get jealous of lovers who hang around too long.) Additionally, Fi has a list of shady Cardiff businessmen (I think all men so far) and councilors whom she keeps on Google alert & provide the author with new villainous schemes that generate crimes for Fi to investigate & solve. In the first of the series it was sex trafficking, the second was arms dealing, I’ve forgot what was behind the third in which Fi went undercover as an office cleaner ` something to do with payrolls, I think. In this one it’s Transatlantic cables, which allows Fi to go undercover as well, for what I found the most exciting thriller ending in the series yet. There is also usually a gimmick in which Fiona (& the reader) are taught a new skill. In Talking to the Dead it was unarmed & armed combat, in Love Story with Murders it was how to blow up a motor car (I now carry one of those gas grille igniters in the VW just in case I should need to get the attention of a search helicopter), in The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths how to assume another identity (definitely my favourite), & here in This Thing of Darkness it’s rock climbing. (Never appealed to me, but then I’ve succeeded in breaking my neck in my living room so why bother?)

In comparison to other young police detectives, Fi ranks for me in the top echelon & Cotard’s gives her a paranormal or psychological (depending on whether you regard communicating with the dead as a giftI – like me – or a delusion) dimension absent in her peers. But you don’t feel, as you feel with Cassie or Lacey, that Fi is so real that she’s somebody you wish you could have as a friend, even tho’ it would be a very difficult friendship indeed. But I’d rank Fi above the impressive newcomers Angela Marson’s Kim Stone & Elizabeth Haynes’s Louisa Smith, who are still a little to flat, even tho’ as a literary artist Haynes excels all contemporaries besides French & Bolton. Another rising star police detective (this one in the Southern Cross) – whom I had the good fortune to encounter with another reading group is Candice Fox’s Eden Archer, who like Fi is also the foster daughter of a crime lord. Unlike Haynes, & of course French & Bolton, Bingham fails to portray really memorable minor characters & his villains are there just to commit crimes & ultimately get caught – nothing tragic about them & they are totally forgettable. But that quality makes the members of the series stand alone very well. Could you read a Harry Bingham for a 2nd time? Not sure, but I’d consider Strange Death for another go – what I learnt about undercover work made me appreciate Dead Scared & The Likeness even more. Should This Thing of Darness be your first outing, you might like to go back & pick up Talking to the Dead for more of Fi’s back story. This one tho’ I cannot imagine wanting to read again, so I’ll hold @ four stars – but they’re very bright stars.

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