My decision to write one-par book reviews from now on has been swiftly overturned by The Colour Of Bee Larkham’s Murder. I totally LOVED this book and felt sad on finishing it last week. I bought the novel after seeing the large number of rave blogger reviews last year (great cover too) and listened to it on Audible (by the way, an excellent solo performance by narrator Huw Parmenter).
The story is told from the pov of a isolated, parakeet-loving 13 year old boy, Jasper with face blindness and synaethesia (he sees colours when he hears things and associates colours with words and numbers) who tries to make sense of the world through his paintings. Jasper’s mother has died of cancer and this has left a huge gap Jasper’s life; at the start of the novel he and his father are struggling to get back to some kind of ‘normality’, and have moved from the south of England to the parakeet paradise of south west London (near Richmond Park).
Jasper’s voice is compelling and the story is riveting, tenderly told and rich with imaginative detail. I loved how people and actions are described via the ‘colour’ of their sounds – eg a dog is ‘Yellow French Fries’, the dour detective questioning Jasper is ‘Rusty Chrome Orange’. In Jasper’s words: ‘I can’t tell people’s faces apart but I see the colour of sounds and that is so much better.’
Jasper tells the story of the strange goings on in Vincent Gardens after the arrival of Bee (not Bea) Larkham, a free-spirited enigma of a young woman, along with a small colony of parakeets which nest in her front garden tree. Both woman and birds disrupt the lives of several residents, especially Jasper’s. He is immediately attracted to the colour of her voice, sky blue, which is close to the cobolt blue that his mother’s voice had. There are two timelines, one starting with her arrival, and the other shortly after her death when Jasper – ‘I can’t stop seeing the colour of murder’ – starts to be questioned by Rusty Chrome Orange.
This is a delicious variation on a murder mystery, but it is far more than that. It’s also a coming of age novel that explores the relationship between father and ‘differently abled’ son, the relationships that develops between Jasper and Bee Larkham, and between Jasper and other neighbours.
Through much of TCOBLM the reader is kept guessing about who caused the demise of Bee Larkham, and for what purpose – we see everything through Jasper’s eyes and along with Jasper we try to piece together the clues.
As the plot twists towards its dramatic denouement, the story becomes more and more unsettling and compelling – a definite 5 stars for the most original book I’ve read in a very long time.