I'd never heard of Harry Bingham or his detective Fiona Griffiths ('the most startling protagonist in modern crime fiction' according to the Sunday Times) but a review I saw about this, the fifth in a series, gave me a strong desire to read it. It's taken me a while, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because it got relegated to being a beach and garden read, and I had other fish to fry on other occasions. So, did I enjoy it? That would have to be a moderate yes. It took me a while to get the hang of Fiona, and perhaps I'd have got gripped a bit sooner if I'd read the earlier books in the series. It's clear from the start that she's a bit of a maverick - more than a bit, actually, as it's hard to believe her bosses put up with her habit of taking matters into her own hands, disobeying orders, setting off for places she has been told not to go to and more besides. She drinks a lot of peppermint tea, rarely eats or sleeps, and smokes a great many joints. And she seems to have some kind of love affair with corpses. I guess that this would have been more fully explained in the earlier novels, but here, though it manifests clearly when she encounters the first dead body in the book, we just find her rhapsodising over the pretty, dead young woman who she finds nicely laid out in a so-called dead house in a remote Welsh village ('I spend a moment taking in the scene, its loveliness, its sweet perfection').
This particular corpse turns out not to have been a murder victim, having died of natural causes, but the place where she is discovered, and the beauty and care with which she has been laid out, lead Fiona to believe that something extremely unusual lies behind her death. Soon they are able to identify her, and in doing so discover the existence of a gang of crooks who specialise in kidnapping the children of wealthy international industrialists and demanding huge ransoms. If paid, the children are returned, if not, they disappear and are presumed to have been killed.
So much is clear from very early on, but even after they have discovered the identity of the young woman, Fiona is determined to discover where she was kept in the days that led up to her death. She's also curious about another, presumably unrelated incident, which took place a few years ago in that same isolated rural area - a young woman walked out of her family home one day and disappeared without trace. Suspicion fell on a rough local man, known to be her friend, but no body has ever turned up and no evidence exists to show he had anything to do with her disappearance.
Fiona's investigations take her frequently away from her Cardiff base and up into the wilds of mid-Wales, where she visits a monastery and gets drawn in against her will to the intense daily services held there, and also send her at one point, with a colleague, to explore an underground cave network where they get trapped and almost die. In fact Fiona has some pretty terrifying experiences and only manages to escape through great courage and ingenuity. Needless to say she solves both the crimes to her own and everyone else's satisfaction.
Despite my somewhat lukewarm verdict at the start of this post, I have been sufficiently intrigued by Fiona to go back to the first book in the series, which I'm now listening to on Audible. This is caused me to abandon the novel I had started, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, a Booker long-lister, which just wasn't grabbing me. Lots of things I should be reading for Shiny but hopefully I will get onto those soon.