I do love a good crime thriller, and when it comes to brilliant characters and thought provoking and topical plot lines, Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series is one of the best out there. When I got the chance of an early read of the latest book, Their Little Secret, I jumped at it and I am mighty glad I did. Before I tell you why, here is what the book is about:
About the Book
She says she’s an ordinary mother.
He knows a liar when he sees one.
Sarah thinks of herself as a normal single mum. It’s what she wants others to think of her. But the truth is, she needs something new, something thrilling.
Meanwhile, DI Tom Thorne is investigating a woman’s suicide, convinced she was driven to do it by a man who preys on vulnerable women.
A man who is about to change Sarah’s life.
From five-million-copy bestseller Mark Billingham comes a breathless new thriller starring Thorne and Tanner that readers will devour . . .Available from: Amazon | Waterstones | Kobo | Playstore | iBooks
Well, before I begin I should just say Happy Publication Day Mr Billingham. Book 16! Incredible stuff. I love waking up to new books on my kindle and Their Little Secret looks very tidy next to all my lovely crime books and all its fellow Tom Thorne titles.
What I love about the Tom Thorne series, is the way in which the stories absolutely ring true, the way in which the author takes plot lines which are essentially ripped from the headlines and weaves them into a highly engrossing, entertaining and often thought provoking read. Their Little Secret is yet again another prime example of this, in reality combining two distinct stories into one sordid and compelling tale that had me on the edge of my seat and completely focused on my kindle until I had finished. And I finished in pretty well one sitting, if you ignore a quick break to do my grocery shop. I mean, I’d have forgone that myself but apparently my cats expect me to provide food, even when I’m reading an excellent book. I know – rude right?
The book opens in a way which immediately caught my attention, if only because it is highly unusual to see Tom Thorne presiding over the investigation into what is a clear case of suicide. But this is no ordinary case and Thorne’s spidey senses are soon tingling, just as mine did as a reader. Thorne wants to know why the woman took her own life, and trusting his instinct leads him to a case which is far more complex than anyone could imagine.
Then we are introduced to Sarah, a single mom with an intense love for her son, Jamie. It seems innocuous enough as a storyline – a new figure at the school gates, trying hard to fit in and make the right impression for the sake of her child. Lurking on the edge of the already established group of parents, slowly ingratiating herself yet remaining aloof. It all seems to be going well for Sarah. Until she meets Conrad …
One of best things about this series are the central characters. Tom Thorne, Nicola Tanner and Phil Hendricks are absolutely brilliant, completely fleshed out characters who you can both identify with and root for. The stories are never just about the case and you get a real sense of the people behind the investigation, the complicated and yet very real lives they lead and the way their job impacts on them. The banter between them is perfect, but so are the tensions. I loved seeing more of Tom and Hendricks together as they are an unconventional and yet perfect pairing, and the sparring between them is always good entertainment, offering a few moments of light humour in an otherwise tense investigation.
If you have read the previous book, The Killing Habit, then you will know that the three of them are tied together in a way that perhaps none of them would have expected, or wanted, and it does affect them in this latest offering. It feels very real, very believable, far more so than if life had carried on as normal. And life, especially for Thorne, is far from what he had come to consider as normal. Then again, no-one wants to read about a Detective who has a balanced and stable home life, free from guilt or hassle. Where’s the fun in that?
Aside from the main team, you are always treated to very nuanced, textured and well developed secondary characters, in this case the characters of Conrad and Sarah. Theirs is a very complex and obsessive relationship, the two of them seemingly very different and yet undeniably suited to one another. There is a kind of dependancy that develops between them, and the lines between who is manipulating who get crossed so many times that it is hard to decide where the real power lies in the relationship. Mark Billingham has done a brilliant job of delving into the psychology of the characters, examining the instability of particularly fragile minds. How past comes to inform the present – nature verses nurture if you like. He explores the very nature of toxic relationships and how they develop and thrive into manipulation and control. As I read the book my mind was immediately drawn to similar partnerships which have made headlines over the years. One such case is clearly referenced in the book, but it had me thinking of all of the other, very similar relationships that have existed throughout history.
Their Little Secret is a combination of both the expected and the unexpected. There are things revealed which will perhaps not surprise readers that much, the signs being very obvious from the start. And yet there are moments that will completely blindside you whilst adding new texture to the story, and as each scene plays out you start to get a clearer picture of what is going on. It is not as fast paced or perhaps even as dark as some of the other books have been. The deaths are all still quite violent in their nature, but the action is kept largely off the page. This is a book that leans far more toward the psychology of the perpetrators, than the act of killing in itself. One that explores not only the complexities of the fatal attraction between Conrad and Sarah, but also the impact of acting against their normal moral code on our main protagonists.
Their Little Secret is quite an intoxicating mix, both obvious and yet surprising, relaxed but full of tension. I loved it and can’t wait to see what comes next.
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.
A television series based on the Thorne novels was screened in Autumn 2010, starring David Morrissey as Tom Thorne and a BBC series based on the standalone thrillers IN THE DARK and TIME OF DEATH was shown in 2017.
Mark is also a member of Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. Performing alongside Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone and Luca Veste, this band of frustrated rockers murders songs for fun at literary festivals worldwide.
Mark Billingham will be appearing on May’s First Monday Crime panel on Tuesday 7th May, at London’s City University. You can find out all about the even, including who else is on the panel over at First Monday Crime as well as reserve your seat. It’s sure to be a great evening of bookish discussion. Don’t miss it.