Mark Billingham- The Dying Hours

Product DetailsA cluster of suicides among the elderly. Such things are not unknown to the police and the deaths are quickly dismissed by the police as routine. Only one man is convinced that something more sinister is taking place. However, no one listens to Tom Thorne anymore. Having stepped out of line once too often, he’s back in uniform and he hates it. Patronised and abused by his new colleagues, Thorne’s suspicions about the suicides are dismissed by the Murder Squad he was once part of and he is forced to investigate alone.  Unable to trust anyone, Thorne must risk losing those closest to him.He must gamble with the lives of those targeted by a killer unlike any he has hunted before. A man with nothing to lose and a growing list of victims. A man with the power to make people take their own lives.

It was a very real sense of anticipation that I embarked on reading The Dying Hours, the latest instalment of the hugely successful D.I. Tom Thorne series.  Having been disappointed by the standalone, Rush of Blood, and bemoaning the hiatus in this series,  I was itching for Billingham to return to our troubled detective Thorne with his thorny (excuse the pun) professional and personal life…

Our maverick hero returns, busted back to uniform after the destructive events of Good As Dead and he’s mad as hell. Caught in an impasse between his uniformed and CID colleagues, with neither side appreciating his presence, Thorne quickly irritates them all further having noticed that a spate of seemingly straightforward suicides is anything but. Thorne adopts his traditional determined stance becoming increasingly frustrated with the antipathy of his colleagues and their stalwart position that there is not a murderer at work, and that these are indeed just suicides. Enlisting the albeit reluctant help of some his former colleagues- well, the ones that still deign to give him the time of day- Thorne and his able sidekick, the marvellous pathologist Phil Hendricks, seek to get to the bottom of the mystery by fair means or foul. This is where Billingham excels in this series, with the sharp interplay of Thorne and his colleagues that supports what, to my mind, was quite an un-engaging plot. I didn’t particularly care who was committing the crimes nor in the motivations of the exceptionally dull killer, so most of my pleasure was derived from Thorne and his cohorts, putting themselves at professional and personal risk as Thorne bullishly seeks to keep his investigation under the radar, despite the problems this causes. Billingham’s razor sharp dialogue and injection of wit is clearly in evidence again, and to my mind what the book lacks in plot, is more than made up for in the interaction between Thorne and others in his professional sphere. Thorne has no compunction in getting them into scrapes and I enjoyed their moral dilemmas as they seek to disengage from their renegade former boss, and naturally the verbal tussles between Thorne and his mate Hendricks are always a crowd pleaser!

On the personal front, Thorne has embarked on an affair with the comely police officer, Helen Woods, although this relationship is clearly delineated by their separate abodes and the awkwardness caused their differing shift patterns. I actually found Helen’s role in the book little more than window dressing, with only an arbitrary focus on her own career and her simply being used as a foil for Thorne’s frustrations when she eventually finds out what he’s been up to. With her employment in one of the most stressful police investigation units I got a wee bit bored with her naval gazing as to whether she was up to her job after recent events, and just wanted her to get involved in a juicy case of her own to support her former characterisation by Billingham as a ballsy and determined police officer, not just a woolly mother in need of a good shake, and hopefully to step out from the shadow of Thorne.

So criticisms aside, I for one, breathed a sigh of relief at the return of Tom Thorne, and despite this having a small feel of a ‘bridging’ novel about it with the intimation that Thorne may well be up to something entirely more interesting in the next book, I found this a satisfying enough read. Carried by Billingham’s natural skill for dialogue and some solid characterisation my final verdict would be good- but not great.

Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller, and Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne. Visit his website here: http://www.markbillingham.com

(With thanks to Nigel at Little Brown for the ARC)

Mark Billingham- Rush of Blood

Perfect strangers. A perfect holiday. The perfect murder…Three couples meet around the pool on their Florida holiday and become fast friends. But on their last night, their perfect holiday takes a tragic twist: the teenage daughter of another holidaymaker goes missing, and her body is later found floating in the mangroves. When the shocked couples return home, they remain in contact, and over the course of three increasingly fraught dinner parties they come to know one another better. But they don’t always like what they find: buried beneath these apparently normal exteriors are some dark secrets, hidden kinks, ugly vices… Then, a second girl goes missing. Could it be that one of these six has a secret far darker than anybody can imagine?

From the outset I will say that I am a steadfast fan of Mr Billingham, having read all the books, having watched the excellent TV adaptations and yes I probably would buy the T-shirt, but overall I  found this a curious and unsettling departure of style for him.

The story opens in Florida as three British couples find themselves implicated in the disappearance of a teenage girl, Amber-Marie Wilson from their holiday resort. She is later discovered murdered. On their return to the UK the couples resume contact with one another over a series of meetings and meals which exposes the quirks and frailties of their personal relationships heightened by the fact that another young girl goes missing in similar circumstances to the Florida case. Jenny Quinlan, a young trainee detective is tasked with investigating them as the Trans-Atlantic connection becomes evident and puts them under scrutiny in a bid to expose their darkest secrets and to catch a killer or killers…

For my part, I did enjoy the Florida-based sections of the book more with the beautifully drawn account of Patti Wilson’s heartache and sense of loss over the murder of her daughter and the depiction of Detective Jeffrey Gardner in charge of the US investigation, a focused and likeable character who liaises with his British counterpart the equally focused and ambitious Quinlan. I appreciate that having set the premise that by default all of the couples are under suspicion and that they should appear to a certain degree to be unlikeable, but I feel that Billingham pushes this too far and that as a reader you begin not to care ‘whodunnit’ or indeed why, such is the harshness of the characterisation and it felt at times more caricature than characterisation.  With the grand reveal (which I guessed- humph!) the motivation for these crimes seems a trifle implausible in the light of the characterisation up to this point and despite a plot punctuated by vignettes of narration by the perpetrator it all seemed a tad…well…unbelievable and all a bit obvious as to how the court scene at the end would play out. It’s interesting to see that this is being marketed as having a more ‘unisex’ appeal as I did at times lose sight of the fact that I was reading a Mark Billingham book and thought I had wandered extraneously into a Sophie Hannah book- which admittedly is not always a bad experience- but felt a little strange!

As much as it pains me to say it this was indeed a book of two halves (and on a football note surely Barry would turn off Football Focus hearing about the Championship or League One and not Division One?) with the American plot-line more reminiscent of Billingham’s ease of characterisation and fluidity of style than the slightly less plausible nature and ‘clunky’ characterisation of the British plot. An interesting experiment I feel but rather relieved that it is just a standalone and that normal service will be resumed…

 (Note to Mark Billingham if you ever happen to read this… Get to work on that Thorne ™  merchandise so I can indeed wear the T-shirt 🙂  )

See Mark Billingham talking about his new book here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiNFMrF3H2A

 (With thanks to Little Brown for the advance reading copy)