You’ll love this murder mystery. It takes us directly into the head of an extremely unusual 13 year old boy; a teenager who has an extraordinary condition which means he ‘sees’ sounds – voices, the barking of dogs, the honking of a car horn – as colours. It’s the same with faces: young Jasper has great difficulty recognising people (even his own father when he arrives at the school gates to pick him up) but is able identify them as unique combinations of colours.
And murder? That has its own colour, too, as Jasper explains at the very start of his story (more on victim Bee Larkham shortly).
Jasper has a known and extremely rare condition called synaesthesia, where one sense is hi-jacked by another. Letters and numbers can be experienced as powerful odours; shapes and objects as strong flavours. Jasper lives in a world of sound experienced as multi-colours, and Sarah J Harris describes it with arresting conviction and clarity.
The sound of Jasper’s father’s voice is ‘muddy ochre’. When he thinks of his late mother, he sees ‘cobalt blue’. Days have colours too: Tuesday is ‘bottle green’. Wednesday is ‘toothpaste white’. The cries of parakeets roosting in a tree outside Jasper’s house are ‘deep cornflower blue with yellow hiccups’.
And the colour of murder? His beautiful new neighbour, Bee Larkham’s murder?
‘Bee Larkham’s murder was ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged, silver icicles.’
That’s what Jasper tells the police. Because he thinks he murdered Bee. He can see it in all its frozen, shining colour
If you enjoyed novels such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, or The Rosie Project, you’ll love this book. As you turn the pages, it’s as if you are constantly swapping one set of glasses with tinted lenses for another. Everything is defined by colour, light and shade. It’s intoxicating.
The central storyline is solid enough; set out in factual black-and-white. Bee Larkham is a bo-ho, hippy-chicky young woman who moves into Jasper’s humdrum suburban street. She’s sexy, edgy, and just a little bit louche. Bee dances and sways in her front room to loud music that annoys some neighbours and intrigues others – among them, Jasper’s father. Bee befriends Jasper, who is fascinated by her.
And then she disappears. Jasper knows she’s been murdered. Why? Because he suspects that he was the one that killed her. He has a confused, chaotic memory of waving a knife at her in her house and dreadful screams. He has a knife wound himself. He’s scared that he cannot remember anything clearly, but he believes his father has helped him cover up the crime. So he tries to confess to sceptical police, who don’t even have a reason to believe Bee is dead.
But she is. And in a series of twists and turns in this intricately plotted story, we eventually discover what really happened to Bee – and what the true colour of her murder was.
This is Sarah J Harris’s debut adult novel. It’s a triumph.