One of the points of this blog is to look for what I would consider classic murder mysteries being published today. As such I do need to look away from the hoard of old paperbacks that I’ve obtained from eBay and look at some modern fiction.
From The Dead is the ninth novel by Mark Billingham to feature Tom Thorne, a character who debuted in Sleepyhead in 1991. He’s been played on TV by David Morrissey recently (if you have Sky One) and he’s an interesting protagonist, although I think to get the most of his personal struggles in this and other books, then you should probably start at the beginning of the series.
In this book, a woman who has just been released from jail for arranging the murder of her gangland husband is shocked first by the disappearance of her daughter and then by a photograph of her supposedly dead husband. No secret is made, plot-wise, that the husband is still alive and arranged for someone else to be burned alive instead of him, but there is a general “what is going on” feel to the story – for example, why would anyone send her the photograph – and once the hitman who was hired is killed in prison, it becomes clear that the husband may well have an accomplice doing his dirty work for him.
As a thriller, this is a very good read. There are a number of twists and turns, including a shocking development halfway through the book that I certainly won’t spoil for you. The problem sometimes with thrillers is finding a balance between a surprising outcome and a realistic outcome. Possibly the ending is a little predictable and doesn’t live up to the shock in the middle of the book, but there are still revelations that might catch you out.
As a character study, Thorne continues to be one of the greatest creations in detective fiction – his character is completely believable and you feel invested in him, especially if you’ve followed the series from the start (read it in order, by the way – there are some major events in some books that Billingham cannot help but refer to at times, so if you want to avoid spoilers for some books, in particular The Burning Girl, read it first).
As a mystery… First of all, to be fair, it’s not intended to be a fair-play mystery. It’s probably completely unfair to judge it on those grounds, but even with my most generous hat on, you’ve probably forgotten who the mystery accomplice is by the time he is revealed. I found myself flicking back in the book to try and find a mention of the character. It seems a shame, as there’s a brief but very clever feint implicating another character who I think would have been a much more interesting reveal, but it probably would derail the main story. I think it’s an inconsequential character because it’s supposed to be an inconsequential character. That’s only a minor quibble though.
Overall, as a thriller, this, while not the best Thorne book, is still recommended, especially if you’ve read the rest. I’d imagine if you’ve read the rest, then you won’t need my recommendation. If you haven’t, then support your local library and go and borrow Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat and Lazybones. And then keep reading…