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Authors: Harry Bingham

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The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

BOOK: The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths
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THE STRANGE DEATH

OF FIONA GRIFFITHS

 

A novel

 

 

Harry Bingham

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They say there is nothing new under the sun . . . I have to say that in a lifetime of reading crime fiction I have never come across anyone quite like Fiona Griffiths . . . Read this book. Enjoy every syllable. Hold your breath, and tick off the weeks until the next one.”


CrimeFictionLover.com

The Fiona Griffiths series: What the critics say

“Bingham’s superb second police procedural featuring Det. Constable Fiona Griffiths delivers an even more intense plot and richer character study than his first.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (
starred review
)

“Intense . . . Bingham’s remote, unquenchable heroine makes her stand apart from every one of her procedural brothers and sisters.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS

“The most startling protagonist in modern crime fiction. . . Brutal, freakish and totally original.” — SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON

“A dark delight.” — WASHINGTON POST

“This compelling crime novel . . . A new crime talent to treasure.” — DAILY MAIL

“What sets the book apart is the first-person narration of Fi, one of the most intriguing female characters in recent fiction … This book is so good it has you wondering who should play Fiona on the big screen.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS
(Starred review)

“This is on one level an orthodox, if expertly-written, police procedural. But the character of Fiona lifts it to an altogether different, extraordinary level. She is childlike, brilliant, courageous and utterly loopy all at the same time – as well as devastatingly real and human and alone. She’ll haunt you long after you finish this book, and send you scurrying to find what else Bingham has written.” — YORK PRESS

“Think Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander . . . Denise Mina’s ‘Paddy’ Meehan [or] Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. . . . The writing is terrific.” — THE BOSTON GLOBE
(Chosen as a crime book of the year)

“This gem of a crime story.” — NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

“A stunner with precision plotting, an unusual setting, and a deeply complex protagonist… Breathtaking.” — SEATTLE TIMES
(Chosen as a crime book of the year)

“Riveting . . . has winner written all over it . . . An edgy, totally unsettling read.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL
(Starred review)

 

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths
: What you say

“Fiona Griffiths may be the most fascinating protagonist in fiction . . . This is definitely one of my very favorite thriller series. I love this character and I hope I have the chance to read many more. Harry Bingham is a genius and one hell of a writer.” —
Audrey, Amazon.com, Top 500 Reviewer

“The most gripping crime novel I have read, maybe ever . . . DON’T read
The Strange Death
if you have a weak heart, unless you are bent on suicide by thriller.” —
Peter J. Earle,
Amazon.com

“I love this series so much. This is the third book, and it’s just as strong as the first two. The story was much more intense, though . . . The writing is so vivid, you feel every moment . . . [Fiona is] one of the most fascinating and eccentric characters I’ve ever read. I’m already dying for the next book.” —
Dulcinea,
Amazon.com

“Impossibly gripping.” —
T.D. Dawson,
Amazon.co.uk, Top 1000 Reviewer

Contents

The Fiona Griffiths series: What the critics say

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19

20.

21.

22.

23.

24.

25.

26.

27.

28.

29.

30.

31.

32.

33.

34.

35.

36.

37.

38.

39.

40.

41.

42.

43.

44.

45.

46.

47.

48.

49.

50.

51.

52.

53.

54.

55.

56.

 

Afterword

 

About Harry

The Strange Death

of Fiona Griffiths

 

 

1.

September 2011

I like the police force. I like its rules, its structures. I like the fact that, most of the time, we are on the side of ordinary people. Sorting out their road accidents and petty thefts. Preventing violence, keeping order. In the words of our bland but truthful corporate slogan, we’re Keeping South Wales Safe. That’s a task worth doing and one I enjoy. Only,
Gott im Himmel
, the job can be tedious.

Right now, I’m sitting in a cramped little office above the stockroom at a furniture superstore on the Newport Road. I’m here with a Detective Sergeant, Huw Bowen, recently transferred from Swansea. A finance guy from Swindon is shoving spreadsheets at me and looking at me with pained, watery eyes. We have been here forty minutes.

Bowen takes the topmost spreadsheet and runs a thick finger across it. It comprises a column of names, a row of months, a block of numbers.

‘So these are the payments?’ says Bowen.


Correct
.’

The finance guy from Swindon wears a plastic security pass clipped to his jacket pocket. Kevin Tildesley.

‘So all these people have been paid all these amounts?’


Correct
.’

Tax deducted, national insurance, everything?’

‘Yes.
Exactly
.’

The only window in the office looks out over the shop floor itself. We’re up on the top story, so we’re on a level with the fluorescent lighting and what seems like miles of silver ducting. The superstore version of heaven.

Bowen still hasn’t got it. He’s a nice guy, but he’s as good with numbers as I am at singing opera.

I bite down onto my thumb, hard enough to give myself a little blue ledge of pain. I let my mind rest on that ledge, while the scenario in front of me plays itself out. I’m theoretically here to take notes, but my pad is mostly blank.

‘And these are all employees? Contracts in place? Bank accounts in order? Anything else, I don’t know … pension plans and all that?’

‘Yes. They are all contracted employees. We have their contracts. Their bank details. Their addresses. Everything. But two of the people – these two,’ he says, circling two names on the spreadsheet, ‘these two don’t actually exist.’

Bowen stares at him.

His mouth says nothing. His eyes say, ‘So
why
. The
fuck
. Were you
paying
them?’

Kevin starts to get into the detail. Again.

He tries to puff his chest out to take control of this interview, but he doesn’t have much chest to puff. The room smells of body odor.

Anyway. We go round again. The Kevin and Huw show.

Payroll is handled centrally but data is entered locally. Head office routinely ‘audits’ local payroll data, but what Kevin means by that is simply that the entire company’s data is fed into a computer program that looks for implausible or impossible results. The two phantom names – Adele Gibson and Hayley Morgan – didn’t ring any alarm bells.

‘So, for example,’ Kevin tells us, ‘if we find multiple payroll entries that share the same address or the same bank account, we’d be very suspicious. Ditto, if there are no deductions being made for tax or if overtime claims seem unnaturally high. So basically, we’ve
done
an audit-quality data check.’

His voice is high and pressured. I realize that he’s worried about his own job. He’s the Head Office guy who was meant to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen. And here it is: having happened. The fraud only came to light when the superstore got an enquiry from the bank of one of the recipients.

I ask how much money has been lost.

Kevin starts to answer. His voice catches. He drinks water from a bottle. Then, ‘Thirty-eight thousand pounds. Over two financial years.’

Bowen and I look at each other. Steal £38,000 and you’re looking at a two-year prison sentence, give or take. It’s too big a fraud for us to ignore, but I can already see Bowen wondering how he can dodge this one. Give him a good bit of Grievous Bodily Harm or a nice little Assault With Intent, and Bowen is your man. Give him an investigation full of spreadsheets and people with plastic badges called Kevin from Swindon and Bowen, big man that he is, looks pale with fear. This shouldn’t really even be our case. Huw and I are both attached to Major Crimes, and this case is strictly Fraud Squad. Only there’s a sad lack of violent death in South Wales at the moment, while our colleagues in Fraud keep on getting sick or taking jobs in the private sector.

So we’re here, with Kevin. A stack of manila folders sits on the desk in front of him. The personnel files for this branch. All of them. Current employees, past employees, temporary and part-time staff. Everyone.

Bowen looks at them. He looks at me.

Kevin looks at us both and says, ‘These are copies. For you.’

2.

Bowen and I fight. I lose.

Neither of us wanted to take the case. Bowen, because he’s terrified someone will ask him to add up. Me, because people always want to chuck the paperwork-heavy cases my way and I spend my life trying to avoid them.

I’d hoped that because Bowen was, in Cardiff terms, a newbie, I might just have the edge in this particular turf war. Shows how little I know. Bowen is older than me, senior to me, is a man, drinks beer and used to play rugby, and all those things count for more than anything I can muster. Bowen is assigned to a simple little manslaughter case – no investigative depth, the likely perpetrator already in custody, but still: a proper crime and a proper corpse – and I get to play with Kevin from Swindon.

When I complained, DI Owen Dunwoody, who gave me the assignment, told me to think of it as a good career-case. ‘Not particularly fun, but very solvable. Good promotion fodder.’

When I complained again, Dunwoody said, ‘We all have to do things we don’t enjoy.’

When I complained again, Dunwoody said, ‘Fiona, just do your bloody job.’

So here I am, up on Fairoak Road, doing my bloody job. A brisk day with a shiver of rain.

The place I need, a brick-built block of flats, lies opposite the cemetery. Would offer one of the best views in Cardiff except that the houses here choose to turn their backs on the dead, offering up garages and back gardens to the graveyard, instead of facing it front on.

I park off-street, in a resident’s bay. A cluster of grey plastic bins watches disapprovingly.

Flat 2E. Mrs. Adele Gibson.

Kevin isn’t quite right to say that Adele Gibson doesn’t exist. She does. She may or may not have helped sell cut-price faux-leather sofas in a superstore on the Newport Road, but she exists all right. Council tax. Electoral roll. Phone.

I ring her bell.

Nothing.

Ring it again. Keep the buzzer pressed down for twenty seconds, but nada, nothing.

I’m about to start trying other bells in the block, when a car enters the car park and stops. A blue Citroën Berlingo, with its nearside trim missing. A man gets out, opens the back and starts fussing with a ramp. An electric wheelchair hums out backwards. Cerebral palsy, I guess, seeing the woman in the chair. Fortyish. Clean hair.

The man closes the car. The pair approach the house.

‘Adele Gibson?’ I ask the woman. ‘I’m looking for a Mrs. Gibson.’

‘Not me,’ says the woman.

The man opens the front door, but doesn’t want to let me inside. ‘A security thing,’ he says.

I show him my warrant card. ‘A police thing,’ I say.

The woman who isn’t Adele Gibson enjoys her minder’s comeuppance.

The corridors inside are wide and there’s a lift, even though the block is only three stories high. Laminated fire notices in large text and bright colors.

‘This is sheltered housing, is it?’ I ask. ‘Are there staff on site?’

The man gives me the answers. Yes and no respectively. It’s a council-owned facility designed to be disability friendly, but intended for residents who can live semi-independently.

The woman hums off down the corridor, the man following on behind. A smell of curry.

Upstairs. Knock on the door at 2E. Nothing.

BOOK: The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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