Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on The Last Dance by Mark Billingham, the first in a brand new series featuring Detective Declan Miller. My thanks to Laura Sherlock for sending me an advance copy – absolutely stoked to receive it. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
Meet Detective Miller: unique, unconventional, and criminally underestimated…
He’s a detective, a dancer, he has no respect for authority - and he’s the best hope Blackpool has for keeping criminals off the streets. Meet Detective Declan Miller.
A double murder in a seaside hotel sees a grieving Miller return to work to solve what appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Just why were two completely unconnected men taken out?
Despite a somewhat dubious relationship with both reality and his new partner, can the eccentric, offbeat Miller find answers where his colleagues have found only an impossible puzzle?
It must be quite scary, writing a brand new series when you have a much loved series character waiting in the wings, judging, biding their time. Well, that and an audience of readers who love said judgy character and who may be wondering if the same magic can be captured with a new-cop-on-the-scene. But as this is a book by Mark Billingham we, as readers, have little to fear, and it’s a case of sorry Tom Thorne, you’ll have to wait your turn. It’s Declan Miller’s time to shine, and shine he does. The Last Dance is a book packed with mystery, misdirection, tension, and the trademark Billingham humour, and I bloody loved it.
If you ever wondered what Mark Billingham may have been like had he turned to a life of crime fighting rather than crime writing, then I’m pretty sure it would be close to Detective Declan Miller. I’m not sure about Mr B’s actual opinion on, or engagement in, ballroom dancing of course, but the wit with which Miller approaches his everyday life is absolutely something I could see coming straight from the horse’s (writer’s) mouth.
I loved Miller as a character. He is steeped in grief, having recently become a widower, but his return to work marks a determination to find out what is happening in his wife’s case and also a distraction from his loss. I have double the respect for the guy, obviously given his aforementioned love of the ballroom, but also because he has pet rats. They make the best pets. He is also one heck of a Detective and, in spite of his ability to rub people up the wrong way, and being a constant source of frustration for his partner, DS Sara Xiu, aka ‘Posh Gravy’, he is very observant with a rather sharp mind. He’s also very caring, even if the more emotional side of him can be hidden behind a veil of sarcasm. I really enjoyed the way in which the author explored his personal situation, the way in which Miller’s thoughts turned often to his wife, and the how it informed the case and his investigation style.
But then, also, pet rats. What’s not to love about a guy who loves rats?
Xiu is the perfect partner for Miller and there are many aspects to her character which may surprise readers. It makes her fascinating to read about and she is very much the straight partner to Miller’s comedic turn. By her own admission she doesn’t understand jokes and even the way in which much of Miller’s attempt at humour falls flat just added to the enjoyment factor for me. She may seem too cool or straight laced at the start, but there is a hidden spikiness to Xiu that really works. She is not your stereotypical copper and very much the Yin to Miller’s Yang, in every possible way. Yet they make a brilliant partnership and I look forward to seeing this develop further over the course of the series.
The case itself is perplexing, the opening chapter creating intrigue as we wait to learn the what and why of the whole story. Adding to the mystery itself is the fact that one of the victims has ties to one of two known crime families/gangs, operating in the Blackpool area, meaning the list of suspects could be infinite, family included. The suspect behaviour of the nearest and dearest adds to that sense of misdirection, whilst knowing that the killer is likely hiding in plain sight. It all adds to the tension. Along with the fast pacing and short nature of most of the chapters, it means that it was really easy to devour this book in no time at all.
If you’ve come looking for the chilling darkness, and sometimes brooding tone, of a Tom Thorne novel, then you are not going to find it in this book. If you like a character who has made irreverent humour an art form, whilst still remaining a very adept, intuitive and engaging Detective, then I think you are going to love Declan Miller. I certainly did. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award and also won the Sherlock Award for Best Detective Created by a British Author. His books, which include the critically acclaimed Tom Thorne series, have been translated into twenty-five languages and have sold over four million copies. He lives in London.
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