‘Die of Shame’ by Mark Billingham (@MarkBillingham) – A brilliant tale of addiction, secrets and shame

I would like to thank Net Galley and publishers Grove Atlantic for my copy of ‘Die of Shame’ by Mark Billingham in exchange for my review.

Every Monday night, therapist Tony De Silva holds an addiction support group, playing host to a diverse mixture of recovering addicts whose addictions range from food to shopping to the typical wine and drugs. There is, as you would expect, an element of conflict amongst the group, not least of all because of the differences in their social standings.
As part of their therapy De Silva encourages each of them to open up about a moment in their lives which has brought them great shame in a id to understand if it is shame which created their addiction or their addiction which is manifested in their shame. As each week one of the members of the group opens up about shame the past, the cracks begin to widen.

When one of them is found dead, DI Nicola Tanner is assigned to investigate. It is abundantly clear that any one of the remaining group members could be responsible, reports of major arguments in a post group meeting at the pub leading Tanner to believe that the answer lies there somewhere, but unable to establish a clear motive for any of them to have committed murder. Though each appears to have their own conflict with the victim, no one seems willing to tell the whole truth about what happened at the last session, the pact of secrecy between them the key to the success of the therapy – what happens in group, stays in group.

This is a standalone novel, and for anyone, like me, who has any of the Tom Thorne novels in their to-be-but-not- quite-read yet list, then it serves as a good introduction to the writers style and is easily accessible. The scene is set very well, the slow build to the understanding of each of the groups own personal addictions driving the story along and making the suspicion fall from one to the other quite quickly. Anyone of the group could easily be the killer, and as each story unfolds through a series of ‘then’ and ‘now’ chapters, allowing the reader to dip back into events leading up to that last fateful meeting, the tension builds nicely. When the victim’s story is finally unveiled, what drove them to addiction, as well as the indicator of the personality type gleaned from interactions with the group, especially De Silva, I kind of guessed who the killer might be and I wasn’t overly surprised by the big reveal. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, if anything, my assertions about whodunit made me want to race on to prove myself right.

The descriptions of the characters and their fall into addiction was very well observed and described throughout. The whole complex nature of what drives addiction and the way in which the high of feeding that addiction is described makes the whole story believable and even if you can’t be fully sympathetic to the victim or the suspects, you can perhaps understand their behaviour a little more. No one deserves to be murdered, but there is a certain inevitability building throughout, the understanding that one of the group has done something so unforgiveable that no matter what, there is no going back for them.

Tanner is a difficult character to root for. Her investigations and manner are clinical and I can understand why some have struggled to get behind her as a character. In all honesty, I don’t believe you are meant to. This is not a story about a murder investigation as much as it is about addiction, a character driven narrative where the suspects are 100% the focus of the action. The story will not conclude to Tanner’s satisfaction but it will to the readers (guess what lads and lasses, real life doesn’t work how we want – the Police don’t always manage to catch the bad guy. Doesn’t mean they stop trying…). For fans of the series, there are some familiar characters that make cameo appearances, including a very familiar face near the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed Die of Shame, perhaps because it was a step away from the usual police procedural, guaranteed to find the killer format, and give it a totally engrossing and highly recommended 5 stars.