Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

Opening sentence: “Bee Larkham’s murder was ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged, silver icicles.”

If you love a unique protagonist, then you need to give this book a read ASAP. Thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart has autism, synesthesia (a condition where for every word, sound, object or person, he sees colours – read more about it here) and a complete inability to recognise faces (‘face blindness‘). This makes day-to-day life difficult for him, coupled with the fact that the only person who truly understood him – his mother – died of cancer, leaving him with his well-meaning but often out-of-his-depth dad. ‘Dad doesn’t see my difference in a good, winning the-X-factor-kind-of-way. He doesn’t look for the colours we might have in common, only those that set us apart.’

Due to his synesthesia, Jasper loves to paint the sounds he hears as layered abstract canvas pieces, they are his version of diary entries, ‘My life is a thrilling kaleidoscope of colours only I can see.’ Anyone else might look at his paintings and see simply a wonderful clash of colours, but Jasper can decipher conversations and events from just looking at them. I’ve never read a book with this theme and it’s truly fascinating. Sarah J. Harris beautifully captures the way Jasper sees things and visually, we are often told the colours Jasper sees for different things and people, so you can’t help but conjure them up in your mind as you read, making it quite a joyful reading experience: ‘His voice was the colour of warm, buttery toast.’

So, onto the story: Jasper is obsessed with the parakeets that nest in his neighbour, Bee Larkham’s trees (I actually have wild parakeets in my garden, and they are now far more captivating to me than they were before I read this book!) and their cries and calls make the most wonderful colours. Jasper wants to record every second of them being there. Due to this, he also records the comings and goings of Bee’s house, which is why, when she goes missing and then is discovered murdered, he is an important witness to the case. Because Jasper takes things very literally he often misconstrues situations and as the story is revealed through his point of view, this gives a lot of opportunities to throw clues and red herrings into the mix. Together, they make for page-turning storytelling. As Jasper uses his paintings to piece together what really happened the night of Bee Larkham’s murder, you are right there with him, on tenter hooks, waiting for him to remember that vital clue and reveal what really happened.

This is one of the best murder mysteries I’ve read this year, the character of Jasper, with his unique and utterly endearing perspective on life will be one that stays in my mind for a long time. The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is the perfect blend of a clever idea and superb storytelling (so often books have one or the other, but miss the mark for both) and is one I’ll be recommending to anyone who asks me for a bookish suggestion!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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