Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mark Billingham
Little,Brown - $38.99
Reviewed by The Bookman on Radio New Zealand National's Nine to Noon Show this morning.

I rank Mark Billingham among the best of the many very good British crime writers.
For me he is up there with Ian Rankin, P.D.James, Peter Leonard, Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell.
Interestingly he has a NZ connection – he was a guest at the Christchurch Writers Festival in September last year and I remember him on a panel with two NZ crime writers – Vanda Symon and Paul Cleave. In fact he subsequently provided a quote for the cover blurb of Paul Cleave’s latest title. Both these NZ authors are relative newcomers with 2 or 3 titles each to their names whereas Billingham has nine titles under his belt with this one being the eighth to feature D.I. Tom Thorne.
I recall a member of the Christchurch audience asked what advice the panelists had to budding writers of crime fiction and all three said – read, read, read to which Billingham then added write, write, write.

Lesser crime fiction is often plot driven to the detriment of characterization but that is not the case with the best crime writers like Billingham and the others I mentioned earlier.
One of the joys of these novels featuring D.I.Tom Thorne is that his character and that of his partner Louise, also a cop, and his police colleagues are very well developed so that their private lives become an interesting sub-plot to the main story. In this latest novel eg Louise experiences a miscarriage and the trauma surrounding that event is very well done with Thorne finding himself at a loss as how to provide the support that Louise needs.
He is a great cop but a somewhat flawed character in his private life and I find that an appealing aspect of these novels. Billingham is also great with dialogue and settings. The Thorne series tend to be set around greater London which is where the author lives and he clearly knows the territory well.

In Bloodline the main story starts with what appears to be a seemingly insignificant domestic murder, if there is ever such a thing, until a bloodstained sliver of x-ray is found clutched in the victim’s hand. Shortly thereafter the same scenario arises at a second murder, then a third and loud alarm bells start ringing for Thorne. Then it transpires that all the victims are relatives of women killed by a serial killer from some years before. He is long dead so the plot thickens.

The race is now on to find other members of the families of the murdered women before the killer does. There are twists and turns, right until the very last pages, but the tension, there from the opening page, never subsides and I must say I found it totally unputdownable, I felt an increasing sense of dread as the story developed and it became almost unbearable as it moved to its finale.

The author, surprisingly given the fairly grim plots of his novels, is also a stand-up comic of some repute in the UK, but he is now best-known as one of the very finest of writers in what is a fairly crowded field in the UK, that of the British police procedural novel.
He has already won a host of awards including the Sherlock Award, the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award and no fewer than five Crime Writers Association Daggers.
And all of his novels have been top ten best-sellers in the UK.
This latest one is sure to earn more accolades and will enhance his growing international reputation. I warmly recommend it.


fleance (aka TK Roxborogh) said...

Arrghh. Title clash!
The to my Banquo's Son is 'Bloodlines'. Penguin has already printed the prologue of this 2nd of the trilogy at the back of the first book.

I came up with my title early this year (in consultation with my students). I remember a similar situation where two authors had used the title and one had to change hers - was it called Brooklyn.

Coming up with a title is a tricky thing. I hope I don't have to change it. Mind you, Mark is crime and I'm not.

Kiwicraig said...

Hi Graham. I thought that was an excellent review you gave today; thorough, thoughtful and fair.

I too rate Billingham as amongst the very best of British crime writers today.

I hope you don't mind, but I've put a link to both the audio file of your review, and this blog post on my Kiwicrime blog -

Kind Regards,

Bookman Beattie said...

Many thanks Craig, I am honoured to be linked to your blog.

fleance (aka TK Roxborogh) said...

Arraaggh - snap with the titles! The sequel to my Banquo's Son is to be called Bloodlines. I came up with this title earlier in the year after consultation with my (secondary school) students who have read the first book.

Penguin even have the prologue of Bloodlines at the back of Banquo's Son.

My only hope is that, because Billingham is a crime writer and I am not, people won't get confused.

I recall you blogging about this happening before to two authors whose new novels were both titled the same and the younger, less famous one had to bow out and find another name for her book

Bookman Beattie said...

I think you will be okay TKR. Your title is slightly different, plural rather than singular, you are in a very different genre, and of course there is no copyright in book titles.

Bookman Beattie said...

Yes title duplication happens from time to time. I recall many many years ago, probably in the 1970's in my Napier bookselling days, Collins NZ and Beckett Sterling (now part of Hachette NZ) both published books called NEW ZEALAND. Both were large full colour expensive hardback books and neither publisher knew of the competing title with the same name until they were published.Two superb books that both suffered saleswise as a result.
But that was an exceptional example.

R.Bound said...

I agree with Kiwicraig. Your review is thoughtful and well expressed and I am off to the library tonight to put my name down for this one and hopefully get a couple of his earlier titles at the same time.
Thanks, you haven't put me wrong on a book yet!

Kiwicraig said...

There is a also a Kiwi thriller writer, Michael Green, whose book last year is called BLOODLINE. It's a post-pandemic thriller, set in the UK and NZ (and the oceans in between).

R.Bound - you can't go wrong with Billingham, but may I recommend SLEEPYHEAD (his debut) and LAZYBONES as good introductions to the world of Billingham.

K. McInerney said...

While we are all praising The Bookman I'll tell you a story which illustrates the quite significant influence he is on book buying/borrowing in NZ, and perhaps overseas too.
I never used to read crime fiction but as a result of reading Beattie's Book Blog and his regular reviewing of books from this genre I decided to give one a go. It was an Ian Rankin title featuring that crusty old cop Rebus. I was hooked and have since bought (paperback) and read every single Rankin title in which Rebus is featured.
I am now totally into crime titles and make a point of buying every one that is reviewed by Bookman Beattie.After today's review which I didn't hear but have just now read on my regular late afternoon check of his blog I am going into Dymocks on my way home to buy a copy.
Thank you Bookman Beattie, and thank you Radio NZ for continuing to review books even though I don't hear them live I listen to them on the RNZ website when I get home from work.

BPJennings said...

Bookman, why are you not doing the monthly crime mini-reviews in the Sunday Star Times any more?
I always enjoyed those.

Bookman Beattie said...

Many thanks for these generous comments which are especially appreciated as reviewers rarely ever get any feedback.
I stopped reviewing crime fiction a while back when the book editor changed and the already tiny amount I was being paid was halved. I felt I was being exploited so decided that from then on I would concentrate on reviewing on my blog, plus my monthly Radio NZ slot which I greatly enjoy and which I have been doing for many many years on the Nine to Noon programme going all the way back to the days when the presenter was Sharon Crosbie and with every presenter since - Maggie Barry, Wayne Mowat,Kim Hill, Linda Clark,Lynn Freeman and Kathryn Ryan.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Julius Falconer? The kiwi connection is that his brother is a teacher (and has been for thirty years) in Wellington!