Book Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

Author: Sarah J Harris
ISBN: 9780008271510
RRP: $29.99
Publication Date: 23 April 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

I was fascinated by the premise of “The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder” from the first time I heard about it. I’m pleased to say that the novel completely lived up to that promise – it was entirely fascinating and absorbing.

Jasper is 13 years old, and narrates the novel. Jasper has synaesthesia, a condition that means he “sees” sounds as colors. He is also face blind – he literally cannot tell people apart, unable even to distinguish his father from other men. Because Jasper is the narrator, we are never explicitly told – although it’s made fairly clear – that he is also autistic, and possibly has other learning difficulties as well. Jasper’s symptoms include being extremely literal and struggling to understand other people’s emotions.

Jasper’s way of seeing the world permeates the novel and dramatically affects our understanding of events. Although he is 13, this is an adult novel. Making him the narrator makes it easier for us to understand him, particularly his synaesthesia and face blindness; it is astonishing how vivid Harris makes both the beauty in his life and the regular disorientation that he experiences. These two conditions are hard for others to understand, and that’s only aggravated by his autism; this difficulty in understanding directly influences events because of the way adults treat him and fail to understand his abilities.

As the novel opens, Jasper is conflicted. He knows his neighbour, Bee Larkham, is dead – murdered – but adults, including the police, won’t believe him. It’s pretty clear to us early on that Jasper is involved in her murder. The question is, how extensive is his guilt? And how much does he really understand of the events that preceded her death?

Jasper is an extraordinary character, vivid and unique. Harris draws us into his world with stunning effectiveness. From Jasper we understand literally what has gone on; Harris has a delicate touch in allowing us to infer what was actually happening. Despite Jasper’s challenges, we have a strong sense of other characters and their behaviour. Motivations are not always so clear, but this simply underlines how much we assume about other people, without genuinely understanding.

On one level this is a murder mystery, and that plot strand is well worked out and credible – and although a partial understanding will probably dawn part way through the novel, most readers will be taken off guard by the full unfolding of this element.

This is a really wonderful novel. The characters are vivid, and Jasper in particular is unlikely to resemble anyone you’ve ever met, in a book or real life. It is thoroughly absorbing and rewards a reader who pays attention , but the writing style is so smooth and flowing that it’s not difficult to read.

I strongly recommend “The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder” – it’s original, well written, and well balanced between the murder mystery and character drama.

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.

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