Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

Bleeding Heart Yard is the third book in Elly Griffiths’ mystery series featuring Detective Inspector Harbinder Kaur, a gay Sikh police officer in her late thirties who has, until very recently, been living in her parents’ house in Sussex.  Now she has been promoted and moved to London, where she is the head of a homicide team that includes Kim, a woman in her forties whose friendly, personable manner contrasts with Harbinder’s firm, no-nonsense attitude, and Cassie, who is slightly younger than Harbinder and is happily married with two children.

Cassie has a secret: twenty-one years ago, when she was a student at the wealthy Manor Park School, she and a group of friends were involved in the murder of a classmate.  They never faced charges, because the death was ruled an accident.  The victim, David, seemingly fell to his death on the railroad tracks and was crushed by a train.  The Group, as they were known, is now having a reunion.  Several members have become famous or well-known.  They include Isabelle, a famous actress, and Chris, a rock star, as well as two Members of Parliament, Garfield (a Conservative MP) and Henry (a Labour MP), and Sonoma, the head teacher at the school.  Besides Cassie, the only other member of The Group who has not become well-known is Anna, who once aspired to be a mystery writer but never got published and has moved to Italy to become a language teacher.  She is now back in London to help take care of her terminally ill mother.

Garfield, the Conservative MP, is found dead at the school reunion, apparently of a drug overdose, even though people who knew him say he never took drugs.  Cassie is given leave from the investigation because she is too close to the victim and the other people at the reunion.  Harbinder and her team soon realize that Garfield was murdered, and that his death is tied to the events of over twenty years ago and the murder of his classmate David.  It turns out that Garfield and Isabelle, the actress, who dated each other in high school, are having an affair, and that Garfield had called Isabelle shortly before his death and told her he knew who killed David.  Every member of The Group becomes a suspect.  Then Henry, the Labour MP, is found stabbed to death at Bleeding Heart Yard, a dining club where Garfield used to meet his Conservative friends.  He also seems to have known what really happened to David.

As is usual with this series, parts of the book are told from Harbinder’s point of view and other parts from the point of view of a few of the suspects, and this is no exception.  There are chapters from Cassie’s and Anna’s points of view, and with these alternating viewpoints, we get various pieces of the puzzle.  Most of the book is set in 2019, but there are also flashbacks to the events of 1998 when Cassie, Anna, the murder victims, and their classmates were teenagers.  As it turns out, no one’s memory of the events is the same, and no one’s memory is perfect.

Cassie has believed, all these years, that she was the one who killed David.  It turns out that David had sexually assaulted both Cassie and Anna, and that The Group got together to plot a way to teach him a lesson.  It is unclear at first, whether they meant to kill him or not.  The sequence of events gradually unfolds throughout the novel.  When Cassie comes into the police station to confess to Harbinder, though, Harbinder sees some gaps in her story and is not convinced things happened the way Cassie believes they did.

Anna also has gaps in her memory, and believes she was not there when David was killed.  When she has dinner with Henry, the second victim, shortly before his death, Henry tells her that she was there, and Anna runs off, visibly upset, which will make her a prime suspect, at first, when Henry is murdered.  Anna’s story is an especially poignant one, as she must cope with caring for her dying mother, as well as trying to remember what happened on the day of David’s death, and also possibly trying to resume her failed career as a mystery author.  Anna also rekindles her romance with Chris, the rock star, who was her high school boyfriend and is himself one of the prime suspects, as he was seen arguing with Garfield, the Conservative MP, over climate change, on the day of Garfield’s death.

I will not, of course, give away who the murderer is, but I will say that it came as a surprise to me.  Griffiths builds up the suspense very well, and I kept changing my mind about who it was.  I love the way Griffiths handles the parallel stories, of the present-day murders and the murder in the 1990s, and the various points of view.  Since more of this book is told from the suspects’ points of view than from Harbinder’s, you don’t see as much about Harbinder’s life as you do in the earlier books, but there are some developments.  Harbinder meets the person who turns out to be her first serious girlfriend in a long time: a Danish architect who is one of her roommates.  She introduces her to her traditionally minded family in Sussex.  Only Harbinder’s family and close friends know she is gay, but from something she says to her team, I think that is about to change.

This is the third of Griffiths’ mystery series, which are all excellent.  Her best-known series features archaeologist Ruth Galloway, but she has decided to end that series and focus on Harbinder and her other series, a historical mystery series set in Brighton in the 1950s and 1960s.  Griffiths obviously loves Brighton, and this book includes a scene where Anna and Chris go there to rekindle their romance (and which gives them alibis for Henry’s murder—or does it?).  Griffiths, as always, keeps you guessing.  I highly recommend this book.  It can easily be read on its own, since each of the Harbinder Kaur mysteries stand alone, and are quite different from each other.  If you want to learn more about Harbinder’s background and family life, though, I suggest you start with the first book, the award-winning The Stranger Diaries.

Bleeding Heart Yard is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.