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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book Review: The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

I've not read any of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne novels for a few years - there's no real reason for that but I followed the series for maybe the first five books, getting the books as they came out,  before I started reading other series crime novels. I wanted see how other's authors tackled the problem of carrying the same character through a series of books and I went through a lot of Rebus, the entire Jack Frost series and of course the excellent Wallander books. Since then I'd become hooked on Nordic Noir and have been reading the likes of Jo Nesbo and going through the Jowall and Wahoo's Beck books. So many book and so little time.

I'd always intended to go back to Tom Thorne but for some reason (probably because I always had my nose buried in some book or other)  I never got around to it...until now. Reading the blurb for Billingham's twelfth Tom Thorne thriller I discovered that Stuart Nicklin played a big part - Nicklin was the deranged serial killer in the second Thorne book, Scardey Cat, and it was this reason that attracted me to the novel. My memories of Scardey Cat is that it was an exceptional thriller - it's a cliché to say you couldn't stop turning the pages but in the case of Scardey Cat I remember that as being true. In the years since then and now it seems that  Nicklin's become Thorne's Moriarty and from what I learned reading The Bones Beneath he's appeared in bit parts in several of the Thorne novels I've missed. I'll have to remedy that and go read the ones I've missed because, The Bones Beneath is absolutely brilliant.

It doesn't matter if, like me, you haven't read the entire series because in terms of the story, The Bones Beneath reads just a standalone thriller, it can be read on its own without any loss of enjoyment. It's pretty much a self contained story but of course there has been a lot of character development during the earlier books, but Thorne's just as I remember him, though these days he seems to be in a loving relationship and has only just returned to his Detective Inspector role after being busted back to a uniformed officer, for something that occured in one of the previous thrillers.

The Bones Beneath gives us Billingham's answer to the locked room mystery - well sort of, since the bulk of the book takes place on a remote Welsh Island with a limited cast of character. The weather's turned nasty and there is no way off the island which Thorne shares with deranged killer, Stuart Nicklin, another killer who is anything but deranged named Jeffrey Batchelor, seveal other police officers, a few prison guards and a myraid group of people who live on the island. The reason we are here is that there was once a young offenders hostel on the island, and Stuart Nicklin had been an inmate. Now Nicklin reveals that he once killed a fellow inmate there and wants to reveal where the body is to finally bring closure to the family - echoes of the real life drama when Ian Brady cruelly refused to reveal where he had buried the body of Keith Bennet despite the anguish this caused the young boys mother. Brady of course took that secret to the grave with him.

Nicklin though wants to show where the body of his victim is buried, but he has several conditions - firstly that his fellow, Long Lartin (a Catagory A high security prison) inmate Jeffrey Batchelor comes on the trip, and that the police officer leading the search is none other than his nemesis, Tom Thorne. Of course we know Nicklin has his reasons for these conditions but when the truth comes out towards the end of the book, you think - 'Shit, why didn't I spot that?'

The book plays out far differently that the reader expects and the suspense is excellently built up until we are, here's a variation on that cliché again, turning the pages at the speed of knots - the nautical term is apropos given that the sea plays such a part in the book.

Welcome back Tom Thorne....let's not leave it so long next time.

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