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.