Time of Death – Mark Billingham


This is the latest in the author’s series of crime books featuring detective Tom Thorne, a character who lives up to his surname by being a grumpy, bristly, crabbit chap. Definitely a beiever in the cup being half empty. But, despite that – you will not be surprised to know – he is a highly successful detective. I read the first couple of books (at least) in the series, but somewhere along the line, I lost touch and have missed quite a few. This was a chance to look again at the character.

The highlight of the book – the part the Guardian cover quote refers to as ‘ingenious’ – would be too much of a spoiler to disclose. However, what I can say is that this is like a classic whodunnit puzzle, with an added twist of howdunnit. The crimes involved are horrific: the kidnapping and total disappearance of two young girls in the Warwickshire village of Polesford. ┬áBut the police have a suspect, and although he is saying nothing, the evidence is slowly accumulating towards a hefty suspicion of guilt.

The other twist, of sorts, is that this is not Thorne’s case. he is only on site because his current partner (policewoman Helen Weeks), was a school friend of the wife of the main suspect in the case. They were on holiday, and detoured to Polesford so that Helen can give her friend some badly needed support. Of course, it is inevitable that Thorne sticks his oar in.

With the scene well set, the author tells a well constructed tale, and keeps the tension going right up to the end. There’s a bit of a cheap shot, when Helen’s encounter with one character is a strangely unsubtle attempt to make the reader think that person is the killer. That apart, the other noticeable intervention is when Thorne’s friend Hendricks, the forensic scientist, also takes some holiday time so as to come to Polesford and join in the adventure. That character does give the book a bit of a boost just as the narrative was threatening to fade, so is welcome if somewhat implausible.

Helen Weeks’ relationship with the suspect’s wife is a standout; it’s well constructed, believable, and thoughtful. There’s all sorts of decent observation built into that aspect of the book.

Overall it was a good read, even if I wasn’t 100% persuaded by the veracity of the situation with Thorne’s indirect involvement, instead of leading the investigation in his own patch. It was certainly good enough for me to want to go back and catch up on the others in the series that I have missed.