Today I am delighted to be sharing my thoughts on Cry Baby, the brand new Tom Thorne prequel from Mark Billingham. I might have been late coming to this series (as with most others to be fair) but I’ve loved playing catch up and what better way to do so and understand more about series protagonist Tom Thorne than by devouring the prequel? My thanks to publishers Sphere/Little Brown for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
It’s 1996. Detective Sergeant Tom Thorne is a haunted man. Haunted by the moment he ignored his instinct about a suspect, by the horrific crime that followed and by the memories that come day and night, in sunshine and shadow.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books | Hive | Goldsboro
So when seven-year-old Kieron Coyne goes missing while playing in the woods with his best friend, Thorne vows he will not make the same mistake again. Cannot.
The solitary witness. The strange neighbour. The friendly teacher. All are in Thorne’s sights.
This case will be the making of him . . . or the breaking.
The gripping prequel to Mark Billingham’s acclaimed debut, Sleepyhead, Cry Baby is the shocking first case for one of British crime fiction’s most iconic detectives.
Tom Thorne – The Early Years; subtitle: When Tom met Phil.
Well if you ever wanted to find out what Tom Thorne was like back in the day, back when he was just a Detective Sergeant whose marriage had just fallen apart and for whom spending an evening chatting over a curry or talking football over a pint with a heavily pierced and tattooed pathologist was not remotely on the cards, then this is definitely the book for year. In a case that takes us all the way back to 1996, we meet Tom and the team as he is called in to assist on a missing person investigation. The person in question turns out to be a young boy, Keiron, who disappeared while playing hide and seek with his best friend, Josh, in woods not far from their homes. The potential implications of such an abduction do not need spelling out and the race is on to find the boy before it is too late.
Now it is fair to say that throughout this novel, Thorne is haunted by a case from his past, one which did not see a positive outcome. We are given the barest hint of the case at the start but this is more than enough, as Mark Billingham creates a scene which is so vivid, so stomach churningly real that there is no question of us not knowing the bones of what occured. Of course, initially we are only privy to Thorne’s recurring nightmare, but the case is explored in a bit more detail later on, but we know enough to be certain that Thorne will stop at nothing to get Keiron back unharmed.
There are many elements to this story but the author does a grand job of drawing our attention to the differences in the lives of Keiron and Josh. Both are from a broken home but whilst Josh’s parents are divorced, they are still both very much in his life. For Keiron he too has parents who love him but who are separated not by choice but by law, his father in prison for a serious assault. And this is where the story gets complicated because it is hard to tell whether the abduction was by a complete stranger or someone a little closer to home. And there are certainly a few suspects brought to light through the course of the story, the author using his usual skill to cast enough doubt over all of them in turn and to challenge out perception of who truly is guilty.
There are some more harrowing scenes that play out in the story, scenes told from the point of view of Keiron. These are hard to read, watching him try to stay positive, using every trick in his young mind to manage through what is a very dark and lonely time. There is never any hint of real abuse, it never goes that far, but it is not necessary as the thought of a seven year old being locked away in the darkness is hard enough to read without it. Then you have Josh. The emotional impact of his friends disappearance is so beautifully delivered on the page that it makes for quiet emotional reading too. This is not just a missing person case though, and there is a real sense of threat and danger that permeates the story. When some of the people very close to the investigation begin dying it is clear that things are far from straight forward, the sense of pace and urgency picking up and the tone of the book changing, ever so subtly.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As always there are those moments of light relief peppered throughout, none more so than the very first meeting between Thorne and his soon to be best friend, Phil Hendricks. They are such an odd couple and from this first meeting you’d be forgiven for wondering how they ever came to be friends in the first place. It is far from love at first sight, or in this case, phone call. But theirs is the kind of mad and mismatched friendship that just works, and seeing those early outings for the pair really brought a smile to my face.
I thoroughly enjoyed this look back into Tom Thorne’s early years. It is a classic Thorne novel with the perfect blend of tension and wit. The tension continues to build right to the end, the bad guys staying hidden right to the end. And as for the end … some definite face contorting, sensibility challenging reveals going on there. If you love Tom and Phil, or even just great storytelling, then this book is definitely recommended. Twenty years of Tom Thorne? I’ll take another twenty to go please.
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.