Today I am very happy to be sharing my review of The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham, the latest book in the Tom Thorne series. I listened to the audio book on my recent travels up and down the country and I’ll share my thoughts on it with you just as soon as we’ve seen what it’s all about.
About the Book
From multi-million-copy number one bestseller Mark Billingham comes a twisting, unbearably gripping DI Tom Thorne and Nicola Tanner thriller inspired by a dramatic real-life case.
How do you catch a killer who is yet to kill?
We all know the signs. Cruelty, lack of empathy, the killing of animals. Now, pets on suburban London streets are being stalked by a shadow, and it could just be the start.
DI Tom Thorne knows the psychological profile of such offenders all too well, so when he is tasked with catching a notorious killer of domestic cats, he sees the chance to stop a series of homicides before they happen.
Others are less convinced, so once more, Thorne relies on DI Nicola Tanner to help him solve the case, before the culprit starts hunting people. It’s a journey that brings them face to face with a killer who will tear their lives apart.
I am finding it increasingly hard to write book reviews. Not because the books I am reading aren’t good – they are excellent. I have impeccable taste … It is because all too often all the things I want to shout out, to sing the praises of and to generally rave positively about would constitute spoilers. This book is no different. It is fantastic, it is gripping, it is scarily sickening and I loved it.
Apart from the cat killer part. You can off as many humans as you like – far too many of us anyway – but leave the moggies alone. I like cats.
As the blurb says, the story begins with Tom Thorne on the trail of a vicious killer … of our feline friends. I will admit that from the very start of this book I was reduced to an audible awwww and a severe case of what my sister would call ‘titty lip’. You know? That facial tic when you sulk and where your bottom lip protrudes like a child about to bawl their eyes out? That. Thankfully as I was pootling along the motorway, I don’t think anyone saw me.
Anyway, back to the book. While the after effects of said cat killer were clear, it was not described in too much detail and did only form a part of the whole story. The case itself, while initially judged by Tom Thorne to be a waste of time, after a discussion with a psychologist over what might cause someone to kill the animals in such a way, it does lead him to a rather worrying supposition. After all, animal cruelty can often be a precursor to something far, far worse, can’t it? And this is where the story really begins.
Now the case of the cat killer is, sadly, all too true. There is no known connection to any escalation in violence as is depicted in this book but it does make for a great basis for a twisted and clever story. I do love how Mark Billingham takes those elements of true crime and threads them into his stories, giving them a chillingly real edge, whilst offsetting the darkness with that trademark humour that we have come to expect from Tom Thorne.
Now if this was just a book about kitty carnage, as sad as it would be, it wouldn’t be very gripping and there is far worse afoot, if only Thorne can get to the bottom of it and convince others he is not just losing the plot. Once more we turn to the perfect pairing with Nicola Tanner who is still working through her past turmoil and now works in the same team as Thorne. I love the two of them together. Thorne is relaxed and willing to stretch the rules a touch while Tanner is more uptight, focused and driven by process. They compliment each other perfectly and while they may on the surface seem an odd pair, they do work beautifully well together. There is a strong bond of friendship there which is set to grow stronger before the tale is done.
What is interesting in this book is that both of the central characters, Thorne and Tanner, are going through a period of change and doubt. Thorne seems to be having issues in his relationship with his partner and mixed feelings about someone else. Tanner is struggling to get over her own personal loss and it sees her acting in ways you might not expect. She is not a warm character, it is not as easy to like Tanner as it is Thorne, whose sarcasm and quick wit make him a very relatable guy, but there is something about her I do like and certainly, in this book, she is more human than ever.
And while we are on the subject of characters – Christine Treasure. Oh my life. She truly made me laugh. I’m pretty sure I’ve met a few folk like her in my life and she brought some much needed colour to a dark story. Larger than life she takes no messing from anyone and is such a joy to read (listen) about. And Phil – always a pleasure to be in his company – continues to set Thorne straight in his own inimitable style.
There is a secondary thread to this book, the case that Nicola Tanner is investigating, that of the murder a man on his doorstep. It links in with a much wider case with links to the prison system and the whole growing issue with Spice and drug related deaths. Again, a very timely and important subject to discuss and handled beautifully as Mark Billingham examines the way in which this drug can tear lives apart both in and out of prison. I really felt for the characters caught up in this side story, some very moving moments developed from it as well as some tense action.
The ending of the book … Oh my word. That was some edge of the seat stuff. I have to be honest and say I didn’t see it coming. I could sense it coming, could feel the pulse quicken and my fingers grip tighter to the steering wheel. Literally nothing I could do but drive and listen but I may have chewed off even more of my far too short fingernails as a result. Again this is an area in which the author excels, in creating a kind of stand off which will have you racing to the finish line because you are too hooked to let it go. I have never been so thankful for traffic delays as it meant I got to the end without having to pause.
Have I said too much? I don’t think so. The narration on the audio was excellent as always, Mr Billingham himself taking the helm once more (and who knows his characters better than he does?) All that remains to be said is that if you are a fan of the Tom Thorne series then I highly recommend this book. Gripping, twisted, at times poignant and overwhelmingly entertaining, it’s a big thumbs up from me. Absolutely cracking stuff. I can’t wait to see what is next for Thorne and co.
If you would like your own copy of The Killing Habit (and why wouldn’t you) it is available from the following links:
About the Author
Mark Billingham is one of the UK’s most acclaimed and popular crime writers. A former actor, television writer and stand-up comedian, his series of novels featuring D.I. Tom Thorne has twice won him the Crime Novel Of The Year Award as well as the Sherlock Award for Best British Detective and been nominated for seven CWA Daggers. His standalone thriller IN THE DARK was chosen as one of the twelve best books of the year by the Times and his debut novel, SLEEPYHEAD was chosen by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 books that had shaped the decade. Each of his novels has been a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller.