Book Review

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, by Sarah J. Harris (2018)

5/5 stars

The colour blue (cobalt blue, to be precise) is very important to Jasper Wishart. It’s the colour of his Mum’s voice. Jasper has a psychological form of synaesthesia. For Jasper, this means that sounds evoke sensations of colour. Jasper lives in his kaleidoscopic world of colours quite happily until one Friday night when he discovers a new colour.

The colour of murder.

Now, the police want to interview him about his neighbour, Bee, who has mysteriously vanished amid rumours that she’s been having a relationship with a teenage boy. As the novel continues, we are invited to see the world from Jasper’s perspective while he tries to understand what has really happened to Bee Larkham.

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This novel is a masterpiece. There is no word more fitting for it. Everything is so wonderfully crafted; every piece fits seamlessly into the whole narrative, and I was gripped from beginning to end.

The narrative is split into two main strands. One takes place in the week that follows the incident with Bee, with Jasper desperately trying to make the adults around him listen to his story. The other strand takes us from Bee’s arrival in Vincent Gardens, through Jasper’s growing fascination with her and the parakeets in her front garden, up to the pivotal moment upon which the novel centres. These parts of the novel are told through Jasper’s paintings – his method of communicating and understanding the colours he sees.

“I can’t stop seeing the colour of murder.”

Narrating the story from Jasper’s perspective was an inspired choice by Harris; it separates The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder from most titles in that may be categorised as ‘mysteries’. The story twists and turns like all good works of that genre do, but it’s Jasper’s unravelling of the truth, his understanding of Bee Larkham’s disappearance, that drives the novel. He is a boy who simultaneously ‘sees’ the world around him so clearly – cutting through people’s lies and false promises, adhering to strict notions of right and wrong – and also struggles to understand the confusing complexity of other people. In some ways, he is blind – to people’s faces, as well as to their motivations – yet he is incredibly observant, intelligent, and primarily, kind.

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As he tries to get his voice heard in the investigation to Bee Larkham’s disappearance, Jasper also learns how to better navigate through the world as he sees it. He learns that sometimes he has to see through the colours that fill his mind in order to get to the truth. This journey that he goes on – that Harris invites us to share – provides a moving, unique take on Bildungroman-esque narratives.

I didn’t have to read the acknowledgements to know that Harris had done her utmost to capture the uniqueness of Jasper’s voice authentically. The passion and dedication she has clearly put into this novel is evident on every page. Rendering the world as Jasper experiences it in such vivid detail without overwhelming the reader (unless Jasper himself is feeling overwhelmed) or losing the consistency of Jasper’s voice demonstrates awe-inspiring skill. To combine that with a mystery narrative only increased by investment in the story: I had to keep reading, to solve the puzzle with Jasper and discover what really happened to Bee Larkham that fateful Friday evening.

“I am glad I am not like most other teenage boys because I get to see the world in its full, multicoloured glory.”

Yes, this is a novel about murder and intrigue, but for me, it is primarily a story about living with difference. It’s about a boy trying to navigate a world that is reluctant to accommodate his unique perspectives. It’s about parents, friends, and neighbours trying to accept that boy for who he is. Jasper’s differences may not be easy to live with or understand but the network that surrounds him – from his Dad to the police force – often hinder his ability to live comfortably in his experience. Harris’ nuanced, sensitive portrayal of people who live with difference – be it autism, synaesthesia, face-blindness – is wonderful to read, opening our minds to voices so often unheard.

To create a tense and thrilling novel that also captures Jasper’s experience with vivid, visceral, immersive detail demonstrates incredible skill and passion from Harris. The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is a stunning addition to the literary landscape.

*The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, written by Sarah J. Harris, is published by HarperCollins UK (3rd May 2018)

**Thank you to David Higham Associates for sending me a free advanced proof copy of this novelfinal

***As my copy is an advanced proof, the cover is different to final publication

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