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Friday, 19 January 2018

Book Review: Time of Death by Mark Billingham

This is the 13th book in Mark Billingham's series featuring his tough as old boots detective, Tom Thorne - I've not read the entire series but after really enjoying the previous book in the series, The Bones Beneath (review HERE) I felt the immediate need for more Thorne and so I started on Time of Death.

Like The Bones Beneath, which was something of a departure from the standard London setting of the novels, Time of Death also uproots Thorne to a different location and presents him in a somewhat unfamiliar situation. This time Thorne is not on a case at all, but on holidays with his partner Helen Weeks (also a cop and the main character in Billingham's novel, In The Dark which I have but have not yet read). However their planned holiday is called short when Helen decides to return to her hometown, Polesford in Derbyshire to comfort an old friend whose husband, Stephen Bates, has been arrested on suspicion of child abduction.

When one of the missing girls turns up dead, the police believe they have their killer and all of the evidence seems to suggest so, but Tom Thorne is not so sure and his suspicions soon put him at odds with the local police force while he heads towards a showdown with a ruthless, and bat-shit crazy killer. There is also suspense because the reader knows the second girl is still alive - will Thorne get to get before she too is finished off?

The main narrative though concentrates largely on Helen and her relationship with her old friend Linda  Bates- it shows how the lives of innocent people, namely Linda and her two children are torn apart when her husband, the children's stepfather is arrested initially for abduction and then charged on counts of both murder and abduction. As the evidence mounts up against the man a press feeding frenzy begins and the Bates family find themselves under siege from not only the press but hordes of angry people who seem to take it upon themselves to punish the family for the alleged crimes of Stephen Bates. This aspect of the story is handled extremely well and avoids the trap of becoming soap opera'ish. Not once does the ordeal the family go through seem anything other than real...real, unfair and bloody tragic.

Now the unspoken rule with crime books is that the author can't just pluck the guilty party out of thin air at the end of the book, the reader must have met the guilty party  during the narrative, and using this logic I figured I sussed it all out by the mid-way point. There were enough clues to point me in the direction I took only to have the rug pulled out from beneath my feet towards the novels end. It's at this point that you can stand back and see where the author led you on a merry dance - and in this book, Mr Billingham dances so well.

To sum up, Time of Death is a bloody excellent thriller with real depth of character, and Tom Thorne, Billinghams's main character, has become an excellent creation - an Everyman copper, who you'd quite like to sit down and share a pint with, but keep him away from the jukebox or you could end up line dancing down the high street after a bellyful of strong ale.

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