Today I am delighted to (finally) share my thoughts on The Murder Book by Mark Billingham, the latest book in the Tom Thorne series. I say finally, because I’ve had this on my kindle since June and bought a hardback copy while I was at Bute Noir in August. A read was long overdue! Worth the wait mind you. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
TOM THORNE IS BACK . . . AND SO IS HIS WORST NIGHTMARE
A gripping, grisly read. Mark Billingham is a terrific crime writer’ —– ANTHONY HOROWITZ
Tom Thorne has it all.
In Nicola Tanner and Phil Hendricks, Thorne has good friends by his side. He finally has a love life worth a damn and is happy in the job to which he has devoted his life…
He has everything to lose.
Hunting the woman responsible for a series of grisly murders, Thorne has no way of knowing that he will be plunged into a nightmare from which he may never wake.
And he’ll do anything to keep it.
Finally, Thorne’s past has caught up with him and a ruinous secret is about to be revealed. If he wants to save himself and his friends, he must do the unthinkable.
It’s no secret that I have a tendency to read series books out of order. Not deliberately, of course, but where I find a book that intrigues me, I will jump straight in, even if that means entering the series part way through. It’s testament to the skill of the author if they can attract new readers whilst not alienating old ones by recapping things that make them want to shout “alright already – we know …” This has been the case with the Tom Thorne series by Billingham where I both started at the beginning and part way through, at roughly the same time. With The Murder Book, it’s also one of the few times I regret not having caught up with the backlist quicker.
You don’t need to have read previous books – Mark Billingham helps us settle into this story not matter where in the series you may be appearing from – but I can’t help thinking the book would have been even better if I had read the other linked books, namely Scaredy Cat and The Bones Beneath. Rather randomly, or perhaps not, I have read The Killing Habit. Now if you only read one other book before reading this one, I’d urge you to read that. Whilst I didn’t feel overly disadvantaged by not having read the first two, or feel that I now have major spoilers that will affect my enjoyment of them, there are crossovers between the two books that I feel, for the sake of suspense and surprise, are best read about in the order they were written. You have been warned.
All of the arguments about reading order aside, what of The Murder Book? Well … I liked it. I liked it a lot. From the very unexpected opening, to the sense of threat both overt and that undercurrent that brings and edginess to the story, I became absolutely engrossed in what I was reading. I guess that for loyal readers who have been there from book one, there may be a senses of familiarity about what they see, partly because a very familiar face from Thorne’s past is back, but for me this was a new situation, a new character, and whilst it may not be immediately obvious, they really do make their presence felt. It’s exactly the kind of crime fiction I like to read.
This is really a book in two halves. We have the initial murders – extreme as they are – and in fairness, we get introduced to the killer very early on in the book. We learn of their motives, their obsession, and through first person account, experience their preparations for their prey. It made me wonder quite where the story, and the author, was leading us. Now whilst knowing who the killer is is not a unique premise, there was far more to this case than meets the eye, and this is a story far more carefully orchestrated than anyone can guess.
The author has done a brilliant job here, drip feeding little clues, little hints of things to come. You can feel from the care given to the story how much he enjoyed writing this. Of putting Thorne in an impossibly difficult situation and really pushing him to the edge, both personally and professionally. The mental toll of this particular case on Thorne is clear. The guilt, the anger and the misjudgment and errors that start to creep into his behaviour and work the more the pressure builds. We are used to Thorne the maverick, but this time we see Thorne the vulnerable. It’s not something that I’m used to seeing. Thorne is always so confident so seeing him making mistakes, seeing the uncertainty that clouds his judgment, is really intriguing and added a kind of unexpected tension to the story.
Now this is a case which impacts upon both Nicola Tanner and Phil Hendricks as well, Mark Billingham has done a perfect job of capturing their different reactions to what comes to pass. With Hendricks it’s a balance between a kind of edginess and quietly intense anger, to an almost complete dismissal of any discussions on the topic in hand. With Tanner, there are so many issues threatening to bubble to the surface, and certain deeds from their collective past really do come to a head in what becomes a very intense and yet almost understated arrest.
The book touches on the subjects of abuse and murder, obviously, but also that very strange and peculiar habit shared by the collectors of murderabilia. The ghoulish trait of wanting to collect items which may (or in most cases likely not) have belonged to or been connected to murderers, such as Bundy, Dahmer, West and their ilk. It may seem bizarre that this world even exists, but given the fascination that we have with ‘true crime’ documentaries on Netflix, murder collectors isn’t really that hard a concept to grasp. It’s definitely an aspect of the book that leads to the turning point in the investigation and sets us all on the true intent of the murderer.
Despite the obvious nature of the case, the very clear clues left for Thorne to follow, there is still plenty here to surprise readers. Much misdirection, occasions where I thought one thing was going to happen, only to be left very surprised by what really came to pass. The pacing waxes and wanes, the moments where readers are let in on the various little secrets truly delight. But sometimes the less is more approach is best, and that is very much the case here. We didn’t need a dramatic chase, a fight to the death. It’s not that kind of story. The emotional toll of this case will be felt for a long time to come. It seems that there may well be a fate worse than death …
And then the real ending. Satisfying, and comes to explain that unexpected opening scene too. It was an ending that made me smile. An ending that also had a certain amount of poignancy and emotion too. Showed a different, unexpected side to the characters and really left me curious as to where Mark Billingham will take his poor protagonists next. Definitely recommended for fans of the series.
About the Author
Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Crime Novel of the Year, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller. Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne, and a series based on the novels In the Dark and Time of Death was broadcast on BBC1. Mark lives in north London with his wife and two children.
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