The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

Dying HoursTom Thorne is a Detective Inspector no longer. After some controversial actions – which just happened to save lives and bring a murderer to justice – proved one step too far, he has been demoted to the ranks, put back into uniform. But when he comes across a double suicide, his instincts kick in – something is wrong about the scene but nobody seems to believe him.

As more suspicious suicides – suspicious to Thorne at least – and a link between the victims come to light, the official channels don’t seem to be interested. But to be fair, Tom Thorne is never one to let something go, so seizes the opportunity to investigate on his own. But with a dangerous killer on the loose, someone who can apparently persuade people to kill themselves, it never pays to get their attention focused on you…

Tom Thorne is an ego-centric idiot. If you’ve read the books previous to this, that should be obvious to you. There are plenty of times in this story where he clearly has enough evidence – including the name of the murderer, as this isn’t really a whodunit – to hand the case over to CID and get it brought to a swift conclusion. But Thorne isn’t that sort of person – taking the slightest excuse to take matters into his own hands, putting his friends careers at risk in the process.

On the face of it, this wouldn’t normally be my sort of thing. While there are twists and turns towards the end – including a twist that’s put in that Billingham’s fans might be expecting, although it turns out to be nothing of the sort – it’s a straight thriller where, by the nature of the plot, our hero only meets his nemesis at the end of the story and then everything is resolved. But that’s really not doing it justice at all.

Mark Billingham is such a readable writer, he could probably make a Thorne novel where he spends the entire book eating a curry enthralling. Thorne is a complex character who, even when the reader is annoyed by his stubbornness, you’re still on his side. When you find that you want to know what happens next in a fictional character’s life, you know that the author is doing something special.

It’s also a masterclass into giving insights into a villain’s mentality without resorting to the usual dribblings of a maniac. Billingham takes advantage of the reader knowing the killer’s identity in order to give depth to a character who is still clearly evil, without making him remotely sympathetic.

For the new reader, I’d recommend going back to the previous book – Good As Dead – as that marked something of a new beginning in the series and, to be absolutely frank, was better than this one on the simple basis that it was outstanding. This one is just very good, but knowing what has gone before gives it that little extra something. As I said, a thriller rather than a mystery, but well worth a look. Recommended.


  1. Sounds great Steve – I read the first two, really liked them, but as often with me then tried something new and lost my momentum a bit – I do find it hard to stick with a series without taking breaks but i really should get back on the saddle with this one – cheers mate.


  2. The phrase “Tom Thorne is an ego-centric idiot” sums up why I stopped reading this series after a couple of instalments and despite this excellent review I’m not tempted to revisit him. The other thing I found with this series is that it breaks my personal limit for gratuitous violence.


    • Interesting. Gratuitous violence wasn’t something that occurred to me regarding this series. I’d recommend avoiding David Mark and Stuart MacBride as well.

      Out of curiosity, which books did you read?


  3. I have not read any of this series, but a previous review on your blog convinced me I need to read the first one, which I have had for years. I will have to see if I find the writing overcomes the negatives or not, along the way. So maybe this year I will get to Sleepyhead. I wonder if the publishers make text changes for the US versions. That really irritates me.


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