Five people all have issues with addiction. They meet every Monday evening in the basement of the house owned by the organiser of the group. They talk about whatever comes up, sharing secrets and traumas, all under a cloak of secrecy. Nothing talked about within the room will ever be discussed outside of the four walls. That’s the arrangement that nobody will break – otherwise the sessions simply won’t work.
And then one of the group is found dead.
DI Nicola Tanner leads the investigation and her attention becomes more and more drawn to the group itself. But when the bonds between the group are built on silence, how will she ever get to the truth?
The latest novel by Mark Billingham, released two weeks ago in the UK and due out in the US on June 7th (although it looks like you can buy it from Amazon.com now) doesn’t feature Tom Thorne but is set in the Thorne-iverse, as evidenced by an early appearance from a major supporting character from those books. Instead, one half of the book features Tanner, a near-opposite to Thorne, an actual fictional police officer who doesn’t mind the rules and paperwork. I say one half of the book as the structure of the book means that she’s only in one half of it.
The book alternates between past and present, so we follow the group in the weeks leading up to the murder – and I’m being vague with details of the victim as their identity is revealed at the end of the first section of the book. The other half is set post-crime, as we see the group outside of the meeting environment – it’s only in these sections where we learn their surnames for example.
I’ll be honest – I was a bit disappointed with this one, as I don’t think it reaches Billingham’s usual high standard. It took a while to get a handle on the characters, both in the group and in the investigation. As the book went on, I began to warm to them more, and by the half-way point, I was drawn into the tale more fully. But then…
… OK, this is extremely hard to talk about without spoilers but I’ll give it a go. The ending bothered me quite a bit. After warming to Tanner, her achievements are rather undermined at the end of the day, in two ways – neither of which I can talk about. And on top of that, I thought the choice of killer was a bit standard – I was expecting more of a twist with it, akin to the resolution of one aspect of the plot.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a perfectly good thriller. But Billingham usually sets such a high standard, it fell a little flat against my expectations. If you haven’t read his work before, then you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more. I do hope Tanner gets another shot at the starring role, but in the meantime, this one’s Well Worth A Look.
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic for the review copy.