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The Dead House by Harry Bingham
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The Dead House (2016)

by Harry Bingham

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The body of a young woman is found laid out in a “dead house”—an outbuilding on the grounds of St. David’s Church in Ystradfflur. Fiona Griffiths, fortuitously, is called to the scene because the local police are busy with a major chemical tanker accident on the A40. Fiona has strong empathy with the dead and wants to know why this woman was found here. What she learns, and how she learns it, adds up to what may be her creepiest case yet.

This book was inspired by an actual dead house that is in need of restoration and for which the author’s mother has been fundraising. The history surrounding these dead houses, and the medieval and religious history uncovered by Fiona over the course of the investigation, is fascinating. The last few chapters are hair-raising and particularly difficult to tear oneself away from.

One aspect of Fiona’s personality that came to the fore in this book was her generosity. When she meets the father of a teenager who went missing several years ago, she observes that the house has been allowed to let itself go because the father is on his own (he and his wife separated after the turmoil of their daughter’s disappearance). She personally rounds up a cleaning company to get the house tidied initially and on a regular basis thereafter, and she arranges for the house to be spruced up and redecorated in case the daughter comes home. I love her impulsive, practical kindness—it is especially appreciated in these particularly angry times.

This book and the series as a whole is very much recommended. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jan 14, 2018 |
Another wonderful mystery featuring Fiona Griffiths and Wales. We see everything through Fiona's eyes, through her thought processes and particular emotional frame. Bingham intensifies her perspective by writing in the present tense - have I ever read a mystery in the present tense before this series? I think not. And every once in a while, the reader comes across the most beautiful sentence or description, anything but hard-boiled police procedural.

At an empty cottage in a Welsh valley, for instance:

I stand in the doorway, looking out. Quiet pastures steepening to a little fringe of wood, the bare hills above. I don't know what a physicist would say, but time doesn't flow in these valleys the way it moves elsewhere. There's something so changeless here, something so little altered since the retreat of the glaciers, that I feel myself in a kind of permanent present. One that knits the modern, the medieval, the Roman, the pre-Roman.

The tremble of those many pasts is with me here. A faint turbulence that plucks at my skin, the hem of my coat.

The story this time is both modern and medieval, and by the time Fiona pieces it together, it's almost too late. Of course.

Wonderful book. ( )
  ffortsa | Sep 23, 2017 |
I have been luxuriating in Harry Bingham's Fiona Griffiths series since the very first book, Talking to the Dead. Bingham's hallmark precision plotting and the most fascinating character in all of crime fiction are two of the major reasons why I am hooked on these books.

Here in The Dead House, Fiona is as brilliant as ever, and she's found a new detective inspector to impress/bewilder. It takes a very special DI to both recognize Fiona's incredible intuition and indefatigable desire to see the job through... and to know how to work with her to use those talents without forfeiting one's rank and job. Our Fi isn't the easiest person to deal with.

If you are not a fan of caving, be forewarned: you're going to find yourself underground for extended periods of time. Since I do not "do" underground, I was feeling extremely jittery through these sections of the book (which means they are very well done).

One of the things I love about Fiona and about Bingham's writing is that you never quite know what to expect (other than a fantastic read). One of my favorite parts of The Dead House was when Fiona finds a way to bring in her sister the interior decorator so she can help a grieving father. The police forces of the world may not have Life Reassembly and Home Decoration Teams... but they're a wonderful idea. Fiona is usually in such grim situations that it's nice to read a touching-- and funny-- scene like this.

Through the first four books in this series, I have awarded each one an A+/five stars. I knew that, sooner or later, that rating streak would have to end, and it does here. The Dead House is a "mere" A/four-and-a-half stars because there were two things that were just a bit over the top for me. One was the medieval aspect of the mystery's solution which I can't say anything more about. The other occurred when Fiona calls a friend to come and witness a potentially dangerous arrest. But four A+'s and one A in five books? This means you really need to get your hands on this series and read each book, preferably in order because you need to know why Fiona is so unique.

You can thank me later. ( )
  cathyskye | Oct 9, 2016 |
The fifth in the Fiona Griffiths series lives up to its precursors, and then some. This novel starts out with a bang, when Fiona spends the night in the company of a beautiful corpse in a stone building in a graveyard in the heart of rainy, wild Wales. Things just get weirder after that, but the author makes it all believable, and keeps it totally engrossing. No more plot description, because who needs spoilers. The only thing I didn't like about this book is the fact that there isn't another available in the series yet. This is a truly remarkable series. ( )
  annbury | Sep 4, 2016 |
I find Bingham's latest Fiona Griffiths, "The Dead House" a rather difficult book to review. This is the fifth book in the series, one of the best series I have read (in the company of Ian Rankin, John Lawton, and Len Deighton) and perhaps the best book in Bingham's series. It has a few flaws, or annoyances if you will. But it's 5 stars all the way and a great read and you'll learn a lot about spe.....well, never mind.

It's plot is somewhat unusual, but then that may be said of the four other Fiona books as well. Fiona describes this situation as a "corpse without a crime and a crime without a corpse". It begins with her investigation of the sudden and unexplained appearance of the remains of an attractive, young woman in a country-side church grounds, specifically in what was termed a "dead house" in days of olde. Fi's investigation brings her and friend Cesca to a nearby monastery where they spend the better part of a day in prayer! and Fiona returns subsequently in pursuit of answers re 'Carlotta's' death. Along the way a kidnap and ransom plot are uncovered and once again Fiona engages in a very strenuous activity in pursuit of a possible witness (readers with claustrophobia issues may have some difficulties with these chapters). But they are incredibly tense, and the writing is some of the best I have read all year.

Now the above occur at about the 50% point in the book and if you've read other Fiona stories you just know that the bad guys will likely capture her before the end and once again it will seem that Fiona's days (or years in this case) are numbered. But, rest assured, Fi makes an incredible escape as all 5'2" of her overcomes her muscular jailer (think "better living through chemistry"). After she gains freedom the case is quickly resolved, but hey, there are more than 50 pages left in the book. Or at least I think so. For whatever reason this Kindle version did not have page numbering though I could tell you precisely how many locations were left. Now here's a thought, maybe there should be a page numbered version for a slight additional charge. I'd pay $1 for that, wouldn't you?! And let's get rid of all the #$%! typos. Anyway, we then get treated to a lengthy what-happens-after-the-case-is-solved instead of the usual crime fiction fade to black. And it was as expected very well done.

Flaws? Fiona invites Cesca to come witness the case wrap-up at the crime scene with cops and evil people all over. A nice touch re a developing relationship but get real - who needs more civilians at a crime scene. Secondly, at one point in book, Seal of the Confessional becomes important in understanding a development in the case, and I suspect there are actions that could have been taken in real life that were not posed in the book (I am still researching this). But regardless, the whole introduction of the Seal seems to me to be a huge stretch and I can't believe that guy as smart as Bingham couldn't have come up with a simpler and less religious solution. So maybe not a "flaw" but how about this.....A few years ago in the US, I believe it was Cleveland, three women were rescued from the basement of a kidnapper, a man who had imprisoned them for some years. So I believe that it is possible for an individual, perhaps severely deranged, to do such a thing, but I believe it's a stretch for a group of people to participate in such a horrible crime without one of them coming forward, and I'm a bit put off by the group represented.

But put it all together and it still spells "great book!" Highly recommended. Can't wait for #6 and where is this Cesca thing going ?! ( )
  maneekuhi | Aug 18, 2016 |
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"Midnight in a country churchyard. A corpse lying at peace. The dead woman looks totally peaceful and there are no marks of violence... But why is she here, in this remote spot? Why does no one come forward to identify her? And why is she wearing a thin white dress on this howling October night? When Fiona Griffiths starts to investigate, she finds a crime creepier than anything she's been able to imagine. And she's about to become the very next victim. This international smash hit murder mystery series is ideal for fans of Stieg Larsson, Gillian Flynn, Tana French ... and for anyone at all who loves their crime noir and their female protagonists strong, brave and smart" --… (more)

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