There are three things you need to know about Jasper.
1. He sees the world completely differently.
2. He can’t recognise faces – not even his own.
3. He is the only witness to the murder of his neighbour, Bee Larkham.
But it’s hard to catch a murderer when you can’t recognise their face…
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is a compelling and poignant story which delves into the life and mind of 13 year old Jasper Wishart. Jasper has synaesthesia, a fascinating phenomenon in which different senses are merged in response to a single stimulus. In Jasper’s case, he lives in a world filled with colour – every noise he hears has its own unique shade. Jasper also has prosopagnosia or face-blindness. He cannot recognise faces, not even of those closest to him. He has learnt instead to distinguish people by the colours their voices produce. These two conditions make Jasper a very unique narrator, as he experiences life in a very different way to most people.
The story itself revolves around Jasper’s unlikely friendship with his bold and colourful new neighbour, Bee Larkham. However, whilst Bee and Jasper bond over a love of wild parakeets and ‘alien’ music, the other inhabitants of the street start to turn against Bee, who they view as a troublemaker. When she goes missing Jasper is convinced that he killed her, although the reader is unsure precisely why or how he supposedly committed this crime. The book is, essentially, a mystery story with tale gradually unfolding via a combination of current scenes and flash backs. I felt this method of unraveling the mystery to be effective in creating suspense. Jasper’s face-blindness provides a fascinating element of unreliability to his narration. Can we trust Jasper’s recollection of events…?
As a protagonist, I found Jasper to be an unusual and memorable character. Jasper has a certain level of awareness of his various conditions. He knows that he is ‘different’ to his classmates and yet he doesn’t fully understand those differences. He uses different mechanisms and thought processes to get over the hurdles he faces. Jasper really is a brave and resilient boy. However, a tendency to compulsion, obsession and repetition is a significant part of Jasper’s condition and this did irritate me at times when the story, understandably, shadows those same tendencies. This writing style helped to emphasise Jasper’s own worries and frustrations. I think that whilst frustrating, this provides the reader with a brief glimpse of what it must be like for Jasper’s father to have to face that same repetition on a daily basis.
I found Jasper’s father to be equally as interesting. He appears completely unsupportive of Jasper’s synaesthesia and that has had a significant impact on their relationship. Jasper obviously loved his mother very much and yet I got only a feeling of tolerance towards his father, rather than of love. I am curious as to why he seems so reluctant to discuss Jasper’s abilities, however I do have sympathy with the daily struggle he must face in looking after Jasper and living with his various obsessions.
The book is very well written, with an eloquent flow and a beautifully descriptive style that immerses the reader into Jasper’s unusual, isolated and fragile world.
The book address some dark and disturbing issues, such as bullying, predatory sexual behaviour and abuse of power. It also explores a highly unique world, one that is likely much more frightening and isolated than the majority of us would be used to. However the author does so with sympathy and humour, providing a wealth of insight into Jasper’s world.The author has obviously carried out a huge amount of research into synaesthesia and prosopagnosia, making for an authentic and believable story.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder really is a completely original and utterly captivating novel. It is unpredictable, intriguing and touching, whilst also being at times funny and very memorable. I loved this book! Well done to Sarah J Harris for such a fantastic debut into adult novels. Highly recommend.
I should also mention that I listened to The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder on audiobook (via Audible). I can sometimes struggle with audiobooks if I don’t think that the narrator ‘fits’ with the book. On this occasion, I am happy to report that Huw Parmenter did a good job with the narration.
About the Author
She lives in London with her husband and two young children. The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is her first adult novel. Sarah J Harris is an author and freelance education journalist who regularly writes for national British newspapers. She is the author of the young adult series Jessica Cole: Model Spy, written under her pen name, Sarah Sky.