Title: The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder
Author: Sarah J. Harris
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Number of Pages: 359
The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder was one of those books that was sitting on my to-read list for forever and even though I’m glad I finally read it, I had very mixed feelings about it. It definitely took me some time to get into it even though the premise is great. The main character, Jasper Wishart, is a thirteen-year-old boy with prosopagnosia (face blindness,) synesthesia, and autism. He’s very different from other kids his age and despite his high intelligence, acts much younger than thirteen in a lot of ways.
He lives with his largely unsupportive single dad after the death of his mom from cancer. His mom also had synesthesia and he’s lost the only person who could understand him. When Bee Larkham moves next door into her family home after her own mom’s death, she sets out to attract wild parakeets, much to Jasper’s delight. He creates paintings of the sounds they make and she lets him watch them from her bedroom window.
She gets a job as a music teacher and that’s when things get dark. Bee starts fiddling her fifteen-year-old male student, Lucas Drury, and manipulates Jasper into delivering letters for her. It’s hard for him because he can’t recognize faces but Bee becomes increasingly bullying and coercive. Then Bee gets murdered (hence the title) and Jasper thinks he did it, but what really happened? Through flashbacks, we see how toxic the relationship between Jasper and Bee really became.
At the beginning I felt like Jasper’s voice was too sentimental and felt too much like a literary construct, and it just didn’t work for me. But I started to like the voice and the character better as the story went on. Now, I think Jasper is annoying at times but he’s a well-written protagonist. He didn’t feel like ‘just another autistic character.’ His innocence makes the story hard to read at times.
The set-up with Bee being murdered and Jasper thinking he did it is somewhat contrived and there are moments when the storyline strongly strains credulity, but I consider that a suspension of disbelief issue and it was something I was able to get past. It made me mad how dismissive Jasper’s dad was of him and the way he talked about him when he was in the same room. But the character that made me the angriest was Bee. I just liked her less and less as the story progressed.
It seemed like the author was trying to win some sympathy points for Bee with the sexual abuse backstory, but it didn’t work. It’s terrible that that happened to her and she wasn’t believed, but that doesn’t give her an excuse to mistreat other people. The ending suggests she was a ‘complex’ person at least somewhat deserving of our sympathy, but I was honestly all out of fucks with her by a certain point. I’m glad you got murdered, Bee Larkham. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.
If she was a man the author probably would have painted her as an irredeemable monster, molestation backstory be damned. Especially the having sex with a fifteen-year-old part. Anyway, this book had a lot of flaws but it was a page-turner and did a good job overall at bringing its neurodivergent narrator to life. It kept me guessing throughout and engaged my emotions, making me feel for Jasper even as he continued to frustrate me.
It’s also the first book I’ve read about face blindness and it made me want to read more about this fascinating condition (I’ve already read two books have characters with synesthesia, Blue Like Friday and The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle– both middle grade novels.) Overall, The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder is a solid entry in the subgenre of mysteries with neurodiverse leads.
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