Little drumroll, please! This week sees the launch of my third Fiona Griffiths novel: The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths.
The book sees Fiona Griffiths going undercover – penetrating a major organised criminal conspiracy in order to destroy it. The stakes are very high indeed. If she’s uncovered, she will surely be killed. But Fiona’s grip on her identity is never the strongest at the best of times, and as the plot thickens and darkens, the pressures she’s under become extraordinary.
That’s probably the pitch my publishers would like me to give you, but I’m also fond of offering the Worst Elevator Pitch in the World, namely: This is a book about payroll fraud set in the world of commercial office cleaning. I’m also fairly sure that this is the best novel ever written about commercial office cleaning. (For more on elevator pitches, go here.)
I really like this book. I like it’s odd, dark intensity – the earlier FG novels have hardly been un-intense, but this ratchets things up to another level. And the whole wobbly identity theme gives me huge opportunities as an author. Here’s a chunk from the book to give you a flavour.
I’m a city girl, but I’ve spent enough time on my Aunt Gwyn’s farm to know the smell of manure, and that wasn’t manure. At the cottage, I knock again for form’s sake, but I’m already looking for a rock. Try to slide one out from the garden wall. I don’t manage, but I do find one erupting, like an oversized molar, from the muddy verge beyond.
Wrench it out. Heave it through the living room window. Reach through the broken glass for the catch. Open the window, sweep the worst of the glass off the shelf and slide myself inside, taking a pair of latex gloves from the car before I do.
The smell is stronger here. Definite. It’s like the smell you get from chicken left too long in the fridge. A smell that combines the damp meatiness of mushrooms, the gamey quality of hung fowl, the choking quality of ammonia. All that, only intensified. Compacted.
The living room has two armchairs – blue, velvet covered, old – and some thin cotton curtains. Some books. A TV. Fireplace.
The standby lamp on the TV is not illuminated. I put my gloves on and flick a lightswitch. Nothing happens. An old-fashioned phone on a sidetable, but no dialling tone when I lift the receiver.
Go through to the kitchen, passing a tiny hall, flagstones on the floor, wooden stairs leading up. Mail, too much of it, by the door.
The whole house is cold.
Hayley Morgan lies in her kitchen.
She looks tiny, frail. Like a thing flung, not a person fallen.
She’s dressed – grey skirt, blue top, cardigan, fur-lined boots – and wears some make-up. Mid-fifties, at a guess.
She’s been dead a while: body flaccid, no lividity. But the smell is the strongest indicator. This kitchen feels no more than ten or twelve degrees now, and it’s the middle of the day. Decomposition doesn’t happen fast at these low temperatures, but it’s already extensive. The smell isn’t even just a smell. It has a more physical presence that that. A scent that climbs into your nostrils, occupies your sinuses. It’s like a ball of cotton wool, dense and damp, that makes breathing difficult.
I push a window open, though crime scene procedure would have me touch nothing.
Morgan is terribly thin. There’s a sharpness about the way her bones poke from her skin that’s somehow agonising. Like an African famine repainted in Welsh colours.
Some sign of a head injury. Nothing much. I guess she fell, hurt herself, and never got up again.
I start to explore the kitchen.
Look inside the fridge, swing the cupboards open, look in every drawer. The kitchen sink doesn’t have cupboards beneath it, just a red gingham curtain on a piece of clothes line.
Cutlery, crockery, pots and pans.
Cling film, sandwich bags, old boiler manuals, oven racks.
Kitchen cleaner, rat poison, dustpan and brush.
But no food. None. Not anywhere
Not a spillage of breakfast cereal. No tin of fish, no box of catfood, no place where some dried fruit has spilled and never been cleared up. In the dustbin, I find a packet of sugar that has been torn open. Usually with sugar, when you shake an empty packet, it rustles with the glassy tinkle of sugar crystals caught in the folds at the bottom. When you think about it, in fact, it’s rare for any packaging to be completely empty. There’s always a little ketchup left in the bottle, a little sauce left in the can.
Not here. The sugar packet looks as if it’s been sucked or licked clean. The paper’s smooth texture has become fibrous and uneven. Something similar is true of any other food waste I can find.
I shake the packet of rat poison.
It doesn’t rattle. It’s completely empty.
You can buy the book at Waterstones or Amazon or any fine bookshop from Thursday onwards. The previous book in the series, Love Story, with Murders, becomes available in paperback the same day. Hope you love ’em both!