I love listening to audio books around the house and when I’m out and about. However, I rarely listen to book that I haven’t first read in print. This is mainly because, multi-tasker that I am, I like to listen to audio books and do something else. However, occasionally a book seems an ideal read in audio format and review that appeared on the Remembering Petrona website by Eurocrime‘s Laura Root had me downloading it from my Audible account. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan is a very unusual novel and a delight to listen to and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Gwenni is the narrator of events that take place in a small Welsh village in the 1950s. She dreams of flying around the place at night and her strange ways are tolerated and looked on with amusement by the locals, although her mother warns her that she is in danger of being considered ‘odd’. Family forms the centre of Gwenni’s world – her acerbic Mam who becomes increasingly depressed, her supportive Taid and her smug older sister Bethan. But she also forms a close friendship with the Evans family, even though her naivety prevents her from seeing the abuse that Mrs Evans is suffering. When the patriarch of the family, Ifan, is found drowned in the reservoir she tries to put her investigative skills to the test to discover what happened.
I don’t think I’ve read a bad review of this book and with good reason. It’s beautifully written and the narration in the audio book by Jenni Lea-Jones is absolutely spot on. It’s not really a crime novel, but a narration of events by a child, whose ‘quaintness’ may well be a medical condition (aspergers?). But it is a delight to see the world through her eyes and her take on what are clearly grim events.
The incidental moments are a joy to read. Mrs Llywelyn-Pugh wears a fox fur that Gwenni can’t abide and hides it in a cake tin for her mam to find; Alwenna is her best friend who has just discovered boys and doesn’t want her odd friend accompanying her on her assignations. The death of Ifan isn’t really at the heart of the book but the insularity of small villages, that allow open secrets to gather momentum, is.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that my family are Welsh and it was great to hear the accents and colloquialisms used in the audio narration. I’d like to read other books by this author and, if you get a chance, I would put this one to the top of your list.
Bernadette’s glowing review at Reactions to Reading also prompted me to download the book.
I spent a lot of my early childhood in Cardiff. It is a place that has a lot of emotional resonance for me, but I haven’t read much crime fiction set in the city. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that Harry Bingham’s latest book, Talking to the Dead is set in and around Cardiff. As it turned out, the book was intriguing for an entirely different reason and I found it to be an unsettling and unusual read.
Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is investigating her first murder case where a woman and her six year old daughter have been killed in a squalid Cardiff flat. The woman had in her possession the credit card of a wealthy businessman who was killed in a plane crash months earlier. The child’s brutal death appall the investigating team and when a prostitute is also found murdered, police are convinced that they are looking for the same killer. Fi feels an instinctive affinity with the victims to the extent that she believes that both touching the bodies and examining photographs of the dead family will help her solve the case. However her obsession brings her into the heart of danger, while revealing a shocking truth about her own past.
I thought it was an interesting concept to have as the main protagonist a female cop who is at the bottom of the ladder in the hierarchical police environment. It is only Fi’s voice we get to hear – written in the first person and present tense it is a compelling voice although it did take me a while to get into the narrative style. There are hints throughout the story that Fi has a unique approach to life and this is opened up fully later on in the book. The revelations about both Fi’s past and her psychiatric problem are interesting enough to make me want to read more of her story in future books.
Some parts of the book I thought were fairly shocking. I don’t like excessive violence in my crime novels and if it’s there then it has to be for a reason. In Talking to the Dead there are some scenes which I found distressing but on reflection I thought they were rightly so. We are reading about the death of a six year old girl and perhaps glossing over the level of violence would have taken away some of the emotional resonance of the killing. There is also a scene where Fi (deliberately) locks herself inside the mortuary for the night. Again, I winced at a couple of scenes but have to admire a writer who is prepared to go there. It didn’t seem gratuitous in light of Fi’s personality although it could have distasteful in any other context.
So, quite an unusual book and given the amount of crime fiction I read, that is fairly surprising. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series and not only because of the setting. Incidentally, anyone familiar with Cardiff will recognise many of the places in the book.
I bought my copy of the book. Other reviews can be found at Petrona and Crime Thriller Girl.