The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

The Bones BeneathTom Thorne, despite the outcome of his independent investigations in The Dying Hours, is back in CID, but it probably isn’t entirely due to anything that he’s done. Stuart Nicklin, one of the most dangerous psychopaths that Thorne has put behind bars, has announced that there is a murder that he was responsible for that no one was aware of and, to give the victim’s mother some peace, he will show the police exactly where the body is buried on an isolated island off the coast of North Wales.

There are two catches. First off all, he will only reveal the location if Thorne accompanies him to the island. Second of all, Nicklin would never do something out of the goodness of his heart. He has a plan – and not everybody will get off the island alive.

Mark Billingham has made a point over the years to ensure that the Thorne novels are never predictable. Whereas the last two books in the series – Good As Dead was a thriller/whodunnit, The Dying Hours was primarily a thriller – this one is a psychological thriller through and through. As the story progresses, the battle of wits between Thorne and Nicklin intensifies, despite the fact that Nicklin doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

It’s an outstanding piece of writing, building the tension up and up. There’s a few moments of release as it seems we get an idea of what’s going on, before the game seems to change again. As we mostly see things through Thorne’s point of view, it’s good to see that for once, he’s not being his usual confident self as he knows how dangerous Nicklin can be. But like the reader, he hasn’t a clue as to what’s happening.

So often though, this sort of build-up doesn’t produce the goods on the reveal. For every “he’s a ghost”, there are countless “the aliens are killed by water” or “they’re living behind a big hedge” – that last one I guessed after about five minutes, Mr MNS. And yes, that’s a bit of a spoiler, but the film in question is utter rubbish. But I digress.

This is one of the situations where it works. Dreadfully so. For a long time reader of the series, when you realise what is happening – in particular what exactly a particular object is, it’s like being punched in the stomach. It’s that strong a reveal, you will not believe what is happening. And that’s just the start…

I’m not as sure whether the effect would be as jarring if this was the first Thorne book that you read. Everything you need to know is there on the page, but there’s a real emotional wallop here that a new reader wouldn’t quite appreciate. New readers should read the first eleven books first – they’re all worth it, by the way – to get the full effect. And, as I said, what an effect.

Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended. Many thanks to the US publishers for providing me with this review copy – the book is out now on both sides of the pond.


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