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Mark Billingham - the DI Tom Thorne novels   

I come across my reading material in a variety of ways. I am always delighted when someone who has chanced upon my web site gets in touch, and it was a double delight when a lady in Canada contacted me to ask if I had tried Mark Billingham's DI Tom Thorne novels, and wondered what did I make of them? I thought, why not.

Mark Billingham was born in 1961 in Solihull, West Midlands, grew up in Mosely, Birmingham, and attended King Edward VI Camp Hill Grammar School for Boys in nearby King's Heath. He later went to the local Uni, graduated with a degree in drama, and then helped to form a Socialist theatre Company, Bread and Circuses. As an aside, I wonder why nearly all writers seem to be left leaning - there must be a reason.

In the mid 1980s Mark moved to London as a "jobbing actor, " - and he still lives in London with his wife Claire and two children. Mostly he got various minor parts playing "bad guy roles," and so he became somewhat disenchanted with acting. It seemed casting depended on looks, not talent.

About 1987 he decided to pursue a career in comedy, and worked successfully as a stand up comedian, but he still kept his hand in by also taking the occasional serious acting role. He turned his hand to comedy writing e.g. TV scripts, and in 2001 branched out into crime fiction, publishing his first book "Sleepyhead" featuring DI Tom Thorne. He thought book writing was very similar to stand up comedy - in both you have to open strongly and capture your audience. Similarly both need a good ending arrived at after audience misdirection.

Mark was aware when he started writing about another flawed policeman, that he was entering a crowded field. Other authors had been writing since the 1960's or earlier - e.g. P.D.James (1962) Colin Dexter (1975), , or my favourite Ian Rankin (1987). Mark was worried that he was failing to be original in entering "the world of the strange clich-ed cop" but he realised that cliches are part of the territory. He used a writing a Western comparison. It's not a cliche to give a cowboy a horse, six-gun and stetson, its part and parcel of the territory. So too do detectives in crime fiction usually have a past, problems and flaws. I liked old Reg Wexford, happily married to Dora, but at times I did criticise him for being boring.

Mark Billingham sort of created an alter ego in DI Tom Thorne. Both Mark and Tom are London based, both share a birthday, and both like country and western music. But mostly Mark let Tom Thorne's character evolve as the series progressed, and remained unpredictable. In book 1 Tom Thorne is 41 years old.

Finally I should add that Mark Billingham is a multi award winning writer.

Sleepyhead,     (2001)

I read this book in Jan, 2017.

This is book 1 of the London based DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. It is always exciting to start a new series - especially one recommended by a visitor to my web site. I think it was Ann from Canada, but unfortunatley I've lost your email, Ann, sorry.

This is yet another crime series featuring a flawed disfunctional detective, but Mark Billingham explained that in his view, these are intrinsic to the genre.

Tom Thorne is divorced from Jan - she was unfaithful to him some 5 years ago. They had no children. Thorne is not a popular copper - his colleagues think that he thinks that he is better than them. He has a good track record of catching murderers, but is "Tommy, no mates." He is extremely self centred, he drops everyone and everything to catch a suspect, and he has no fear of being wrong. It's not really a very sympathetic picture - I wonder how Mark Billingham will persuade us to like Thorne ?

We learn that some 15 years previously, as a rookie copper, some sort of flash on intuition told him that he had come face to face with a ruthless killer. The man had been called in as part of a mass screening and was leaving the police station. As an inexperienced raw recruit at the time, Thorne dismissed the thought. Eventually he did get on his trail, but he was too late to save a wife and dying children. Their deaths still haunt Tom's nightmares - and Tom learned not to dismiss hunches. And so, in this story, Tom is 100% driven to prove that Jeremy Bishop is a madman responsible for a series of deaths, even though Bishop has an alibi. You'll have to read the story to find out if Tom is right, or terribly mistaken.

We have a truly horrific and wierd crime here. A madman picks up young ladies, drugs them, and then almost strangles them in a difficult pressure point procedure to deprive the brain of oxygen, cause a stroke, and induce a persistent vegetative state. Mostly the attempt kills the victims, but with poor Alison Willets, the madman succeeds. Alison is lying on her back in hospital, her mind active and her eyes open, but her body is paralysed. But she can blink. I think the title is quite appropriate, in a sick kind of way.

Throughout the book we share Alison's thoughts and frustrations and somehow she still has preserved a grim sort of sense of humour. The doctor treating Alison is Anne Coburn, and Ann is the love interest for Tom in this book. Ann has a daughter Rachel, and both feature in a cliff hanger of a climax to this book.

I liked the book, and Tom Thorne is a strong character. There is plenty room in fiction for another flawed detective. I like the way we get to share the thoughts of both the madman and poor Alison, trapped in her body with no possibility of a cure. Getting inside the heads of the characters is not a new technique, but it's well done here.

All in all, I think I am going to like the Tom Thorne books.

At the end of the book, Mark attacks politicians, and says we should spend more on the NHS. I don't disagree but problems in the NHS run deeper I fear, and simply throwing money at a problem may be too simplistic. Perhaps the NHS is just too big an organisation ever to be run efficiently, but what do I know ?

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Scaredy Cat,     (2002)

I read this book in Feb, 2017.

This is book 2 of Mark Billingham's series featuring a typical disfunctional cop, DI Tom Thorne of South London. Tom is naturally divorced from his wife, has few friends, and little respect for his superiors - which is unfair in that DCI Brigstocke seems a good DCI and boss, and is more than fair to Tom.

Tom does now seem to be part of a team - Tom's half friend DC Dave Holland, and a new character DS Sarah McEvoy. McEvoy is a bit of a scary out of control character, and eventually we learn why. Tom also has another sort of friend in Hendricks, the pathologist. It's now some time after book 1, and Tom still has no girlfriend - he hasn't bothered to contact the doctor (Anne Coburn) he met in book 1.

Mark Billingham is a good writer, and Tom is a strong character, but I am not sure that I have warmed to Tom Thorne yet - certainly not in the way I like Rebus , or Morse , or Dalgleish . It's early days. Perhaps Mark Billingham is just trying too hard to shock - with someone trying to condemn victims into "Locked in Syndrome" in book 1, and a double pair of nasty serial killers in this book. There is a very troubling opening to the book. We think we are following a boyfriend and girlfriend home, but after the killer jumps on the girl as she opens the door to her flat, we realise that her companion is her toddler child. Did he have to watch the terrible things that happened to his mum - "mummy's asleep" - as the killer munched a chocolate bar ? Its powerful writing, but a terrible thought, and not very pleasant reading.

I read somewhere that in 1997 Billingham and a friend were held bound and gagged in a hotel bedroom robbery, and terrified by the experience. This gave Mark the idea of someone being scared into doing terrible deeds. Right at the start of the book we meet two schoolboys, a big lad easily led, Martin Palmer, and an amoral, fearless, smaller character, oblivious of pain, Stuart Nicklin. Stuart rescues Martin from bullying, is the only friend Martin has, but to say that Stuart leads Martin astray is a terrible understatement.

Someone is committing a series of two horrible murders on the same day. It's Tom's case, and he realises that there are two killers in play. Generally he is a good detective but he does make some terrible mistakes. The Met allowing a murderer out of prison so as to possibly catch his accomplice seems daft , and ill thought out to me. It's almost unbelievable, and it was Tom's mistake.

It's a long story, but a real page turner, and the writer held my attention throughout. Theres were lot of strands to the story, a few surprises, and it all bulit to a terrific climax at the end - especially for DS McEvoy.

Tom seems to alternate between bouts of 100% self confidence, and bouts of mild depression, where he considers jacking it all in. I'm afraid it's familiar territory - have I been reading too much crime fiction ?

Finally a word about Tom's dad, who likes a joke and provides some of the humour of this book. At the end, its black humour indeed, for the father.

All in all, a strong story from a popular series by a good writer. I'll certainly read on to see what happens next. Somehow, though, although I enjoy the books, I don't particularly like Tom Thorne, the man. Perhaps this will change as the series progresses.

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Lazy Bones,     (2003)

I read this book in Mar, 2017.

This is book 3 of Mark Billingham's series featuring DI Tom Thorne, an able London detective but not one who has too many friends. Tom is divorced from his wife, and doesn't have a girlfriend, but in this book he meets Eve Bloom, a good name for a florist. She seems very keen on Tom, but somehow Tom seems to be holding back. He likes Eve, is attracted to her, but seems too lazy to stir himself and do something about it. There is a break in at his house, his music centre and his country and western music are stolen, and his bed matress is soiled and has to be thrown out. He can't ask Eve back until he gets a new matress, but somehow he never gets round to replacing it. Of course there is a lot more to this part of the story - is Eve who she says she is, and is some sort of premonition holding Tom back ? It all becomes shockingly clear in a terrific climax.

All the usual cast seem to be here - Tom of course, and his colleague/friend DC Holland, and his pathologist friend Hendricks. Holland and his wife Sophie are about to be parents, but Holland is leaving Sophie alone at home , is in denial, and out drinking with the lads. He comes to his senses before the end of the book. DS Yvonne Kitson is a new face, a super efficient copper, but she too is not all she seems to be. And finally we meet a former DCI, Carol Chamberlain, who had to retire far too early, but is now called back to work on "cold cases" - in the "crinkley squad." She is the one who spots the clue that rescues Tom's latest investigation. I am sure we will meet Carol Chamberlain again in future books.

There are two stories here, one told in flashback, but why we are being told about the flashback story remains a mystery for most of the book. A woman is raped, but is not believed by the police and later by a jury, and the rapist walks free to celebrate with his friends whilst the poor woman's life is destroyed. She cannot leave home any more, and ceases to function, and in a cruel twist is killed by her husband who then commits suicide - their double deaths leaving their two young children orphans. So many people have let down these youngsters - Mark and Sarah - it's them against the world.

The other story is about some vigilante character who is going round killing and raping convicted rapists. He (or she, but surely it must be he) seems to know when rapists are released from prison back into the community, and then is ready to strike.

I thought it was a very good story - Mark Billingham is an excellent writer and the whole story was very skillfully structured. Just what was happening became slowly apparent to us, the readers, slightly before Tom Thorne worked it out, and so, at the terrific climax, we knew that he was in great danger long before he did. And Holland was miles away sitting drinking tea with an old lady, in no rush to see the photos she had looked out for the police.

Tom's dad is still alive - his dementia not yet too extreme. Tom also gets a new car - a yellow BMW - his pride and joy. Instead of going by himself on a date with Eve, Tom takes Holland along too , anxious to show him the BMW. It's a strange action, but it turns out it's just as well that he did.

All in all, a good story that I really liked. Roll on book 4.

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The Burning Girl,     (2004)

I read this book in Mar, 2017.

This is book 4 of Mark Billingham's series about a London detective, DI Tom Thorne. Up to now, I have been quite impressed by this series, but in the end I was very disappointed in this book. I didn't like the ending where the bad guys win, and I don't like it when police officers go private and resort to torture to get a conviction. I am talking here about DI Thorne himself, and his chum the retired (but now working on cold cases) DCI Carol Chamberlain.

The book started off quite well with what looked like a strong story about gang protection rackets, and one gang - The Ryan gang - trying to move into another gang - the Zarifs - territory. Gang warfare has broken out, they are killing each other and one madman is carving X's on the back of his victims. There was also a strong back story of about 20 years ago involving former DCI Chamberlain - this was the dousing with lighter fuel of a young girl called Jessica Clarke, and the cruel setting of Jessica alight. She ran screaming through a public park - a flaming torch. She survived the agony of the severe burns and later medical treatments, but was hideously disfigured and she later killed herself, unable to live with everyone looking at her. To make matters worse it was a case of mistaken identity - Jessica's best friend was Alison Kelly. Her dad was a protection gang leader who "retired" all these years ago and left his gang empire to his deputy Billy Ryan - and now the Ryans are fighting the Turks - the Zarifs.

In the back story, DCI Chamberlain got her man - Gordon Rooker confessed and is currently still in prison serving his sentence. But now someone is stalking Carol Chamberlain - and in phone calls he taunts her with details of the burning girl that only the perpetrator would know. DI Thorne is working on the gang warfare cases, and there is plenty of friction when an old adversary now DCI Tighan is more or less in charge of the case. The Zarifs are Turkish businessmen. The clan is headed by old Akran Zarif, but his three sons and daughter now seem to be running things. There is no real success nor hope of success in convictiong any of the gang members, and the police investigation is cancelled - not enough time and resources to do everything. But Thorne is determined to get justice for young Jessica, and he and Carol take things into their own hands and the story starts to get stupid - in my opinion.

Switching to Tom Thorne's private life, Hendricks is still sleeping on the couch at Tom's place. DC Holland is not getting enough sleep, but loving fatherhood. Tom's dad Jim who has dementia is still alive and behaving badly but Tom is doing what he can to help Jim cope. But, early in the book, Jim almost burns his house down - he thought he would make chips, lit the gas, but then wandered off and forget. He had a lucky escape on that occasion, but Tom didn't really get round to doing anything to make a repeat impossible - and there is bad news just at the end of the book. But was it another accident, or were the Zarifs getting even with Tom ?

So all in all, I didn't like this story, but we can't expect every book in a series to be a winner. I will read on, and see what happens.

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Lifeless,     (2005)

I read this book in May, 2017.

This is book 5 in the DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham, set in London. Mark is a terrific story teller, and this is a cracker - but slightly different in that Tom Thorne goes undercover for all of the book, sleeping rough in London with the drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally disturbed. I am impressed that Mark can write so convincingly on the down and outs in London - he seems to have done his research well.

Tom Thorne is in a bit of a sad state, and he is not acting. He seems to be spiralling downwards. It's some eight weeks after Tom's dad's death, and Tom is depressed - hit by a mix of guilt for not acting sooner and getting his dad into a care home, and the realisation that he will never know if Jim Thorne's death was an accident, or retribution by one of Tom's enemies. Tom returned to work too soon, was not coping, and was put on "gardening leave" - "I don't even have a window box" protests Tom.

There is a serial killer attacking the down and outs on the London streets, and the police have no clues. Somehow Tom persuades Brighouse and Jesmond to let him go undercover secretely and live on the streets. All too soon Tom completely looks and acts the part. He is drinking too much, and in a terrible state. But he makes friends on the streets in two young junkies - Spike and his girlfriend Cath. Tom has few friends on the Force - save for now DS Dave Holland, and the pathologist Hendricks, but Tom finds a cammaradarie on the streets. In their own inadequate way they try to look out for each other. But this is not overdone - there are no heroes here.

There is a strong army connection to the killings, and it's Tom who solves the case in a most unexpected way at the end - just when the case seemed to have gone cold, and the killer escaped.

But in spite of this success, its not clear what the future might hold for Tom Thorne. Is he still on gardening leave ? What sort of job could he possibly fit into ?

Dave Holland's marriage seems to be heading for the rocks. Dave loves his little daughter dearly, but he and his wife seem to be leading separate lives. It doesn't look good. DI Yvonne Kitson is a very able, but under-appreciated member of the team trying to win back repect after an ill considered affair, but can she ever be "one of the boys"?

It will be very interesting to see what happens next for all of them - and this of course is the strength of a series.

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Buried,     (2006)

I read this book in June, 2017.

This is book 6 in Mark Billingham's series featuring DI Tom Thorne and set in London. It is a series by a good story teller that is growing on me. The main character is a troubled policeman with a chip on his shoulder - a great detective who makes mistakes, doesn't know how or when to show respect, and seems to go through life annoying people and making enemies. In spite of all this he does somehow seem to have acquired a good set of friends - DS Dave Holland who saved his life, DI Kitson who made a personal life mistake but is turning into an excellent copper (and alas, under the influence of Tom Thorne, starting to bend the rules), DCI Brigstone, Tom's thoroughly decent boss, and Phil Hendricks, the pathologist. For all of these there are personal stories that we get to follow - Dave's marriage problems, Kitson, a woman in a lad's world, and Phil Hendricks quarrelling with partner Brendhan over whether they should adopt a child.

The story opens with Tom back at work, but desk bound and bored. Brigstone offers Tom a change of scene - they are short staffed on the kidnap section, will he agree to help out. Tom jumps at the chance. He is working with DI Louise Porter, respects her expertise, and slowly Tom and Louise start to hit it off. It's a pity that Tom seems to be having back problems, though. The friendship and the back problem collide at the end of the book, with a pointer to the next instalment - will Tom's back recover, will there be a future romance ?

There are three main stories, and of course they turn out to be related. Luke Mullen, the son of a retired high ranking policeman, has gone missing, but there is no ransom note. Tom is not even sure that it's a kidnapping, and he can't get too excited about the case. He is used to hunting for murderers, but there are no bodies. Well there soon are, and so Tom's old special crimes unit gets involved. And so Holland and Tom are out working on a case again - although Tom and Louise seem to be the main team. Poor Luke is terrified, an intelligent lad held captive by a psychopath. Can he be rescued in time ? The second story is about a paedophile Grant Freestone who has served his time, and is now out of prison. He is accused of killing Sarah Hanley, but protests his innocence. And the third story is about someone who beat up and sodomised a young asian lad - it's Kitson's case, but Dave Holland spots a public schoolboy who matches the assailant's description and tells Kitson. The police had checked with the local state schools, but didn't think to check at the "posh" school.

The main story is Tom and Louise's kidnap case. It gets complicated when the bodies of the murdered kidnappers turn up - but poor Luke is still missing, and then it gets even more complicated. Luke's family is the family from hell. The mum and dad snarl at each other, and we find out why. As usual there is a strong build up to the climax, and then there is a further climax - it seems the story doesn't want to end. Good well written stuff, but I'd have preferred a neater (single) ending.

Finally, although Tom's dad Jim - who suffered from dementia - died in a house fire some while ago, he still turns up in Tom's vivid dreams. Sometimes he is offering advice, and sometimes he is telling terrible dementia jokes ("one benefit of dementia is that you never need to watch a repeat again"), or singing a duet with his friend Victor. The net result is that Tom is getting next to no sleep - but perhaps there is hint at the end that Jim may be departing. I will miss him.

So it's a good story, well told, in a series with strong, interesting characters. What's not to like ?

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Death Message,     (2007)

I read this book in June, 2017.

This is book seven in the DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. It is set in London, and is a really good series.

First let's deal with the plot, and then we will get on to the more interesting back story of what's happening to Tom Thorne and his colleagues. Hopefully you are reading these books in the correct order, and will have already met Akran Zarif (
"The Burning Girl" ) and Stuart Nicklin ("Scaredy Cat" ).

The book opens with Marcus Brooks, in prison, having bad news broken to him by two policeman. He is getting out in 3 weeks and is looking forward to seeing his partner and young son again, but the bad news is that they have been killed in a hit and run. The story is about his seeking revenge for their deaths - and he considers all concerned in their death are equally guilty so he has a long list. There are now a few twists which include drugs smuggling, biker gangs, and two corrupt policemen who had fitted up Marcus - he was a thief, but didn't commit the murder he was sent to prison for. A further twist is that Nicklin was in the same prison as Marcus, and had helped him prepare a list of those Marcus has to get even with. Nicklin also wants to hit back at Tom Thorne, and adds the name of one of Tom Thorne's friends to the list. Just to make it even more interesting Nicklin persuades Marcus to send a picture of each prospective victim to Tom Thorne, sometimes just before, sometimes just after their death. Tom tells Brighouse about the first photo / victim, and so gets the case, but lots of other police departments are involved too. Tom has to hand over his phone to IT, and so has to get a spare. Next Brighouse is under internal investigation, and in this connection Tom's phone, now returned to him, is being monitored. And so the spare comes in handy - it is to this that Marcus is now sending the death photos, and Tom is communicating unofficially with Marcus. Why is Tom risking his career once again - read the book ? It all builds to a terrific climax when Tom has to save his friend - who turns out to be the opposite of grateful. And then there is a second climax when Zarif is mentioned. Quite a few scores are settled, but some will have to wait for future books.

Now to Tom's and the others private lives. Tom and Louise are still seeing each other / sleeping together sometimes at Tom's flat, sometimes at Louise's. Tom's chum Hendricks had split from his partner Brendan because Hendricks wanted to adopt / start a family, but Brendan did not. In a strange echo Louise and Tom find themseles in the same situation. Lousie is amazed to find she wants to become pregnant, and wants to talk about her feelings but Tom is a man, and can't talk about his feelings - his head is too complicated / muddled. He keeps things to himself - always has, always will. It gets to the stage that Tom and Lousie may break up. Louise is asking Tom what he knows are very important questions, but he doesn't know what Louise wants him to say. It's a classic example of the gender gap, and its handled very well here.

Tom is soon in trouble with his concealment of his contacts with Marcus, and Louise and Dave Holland help to rescue him. As suggested in the previous book, Tom's dead father Jim is haunting Tom's dreams less than before - but just at the end Tom finally gets an answer as to whether Jim's death was an accident or murder. Marcus and Tom now have a shared enemy, and Marcus knows how to deal with enemies.

It's a big, complicated story very well plotted and it all fits together nicely. Mark Billingham tells and writes a good story.

Finally, I was surprised that there was no mention of DCI Chamberlain in this book - I thought she was starting to be one of the main characters, but she plays no part in this story.

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Bloodline,     (2009)

I read this book in July, 2017.

This is book eight in Mark Billingham's excellent DI Tom Thorne series. I have been a bit slow to appreciate just what a good series this is. Bloodline is a terrific story with a series of climaxes that are simply stunning. The serial killer Tony Garvey has been following a brilliant plan and has out-thought the police and DI Thorne. Its a well crafted book and it all works perfectly.

We open with a prologue when we first meet Debbie and her brain damaged son Jason. They are on a bridge for Jason to watch the "puff-puffs" but has Debbie come to the end of her tether - is she about to end it all taking poor little Jason with her? How could he manage without her? Next, we discover that there is a serial killer around and soon we find out what his victims have in common. Now we meet Debbie and Jason again - Debbie is one of the potential targets on the serial killer's hit list. The body count rises, two others on the hit list are under police protection, but is this enough to foil a serial killer with a brilliant game plan? And then at the end, we meet Debbie and Jason again, but do they both survive ? Read the book to find out - it comes recommended.

Switching to Tom's private life there are big developments. Tom and Louise are very much still together - in fact Louise is pregnant. Sadly the embryo dies ("is not viable"). Tom always has difficulty explaining how he feels about things, but now both Tom and Lousie in their bereavement have this problem in spades. We also meet ex DCI Carol Chamberlain. She and Tom had been getting on well, but it seemed to have cooled in the previous book. Now we find out why - it was Carol who did the torturing to get crucial information, with Tom watching but not interfering. In turn it was this that lead to Tom's dad's death. But time has passed, Tom calls in Chamberlain again, and she again finds the crucial key to the serial murders. Happily Tom and Hendricks are pals again, DS Holland is a great no 2 to Tom, and DI Kitson is a good friend, and very able detective. Put it all together and its a great team of strong characters headed by the strongest DI Tom Thorne.

I can't really say much more without spoiling a great story. As I said, a real page turner.

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From The Dead     (2010)

I read this book in July, 2017.

This is another good story in what has turned out to be an excellent series. I like the characters - DI Tom Thorne and his DI girlfriend Louise, Brigstocke and Jesmond, Tom's bosses, and Hendricks, Dave Holland and Kitson, Tom's friends.

The main plot is good, and so are the developments in Tom's private life. Let's deal with the main plot first. Alan Langford's charred remains are found in a burnt out car, and his wife goes to prison for having him killed. But just before her release, Donna starts getting recent photos in the post of Alan, still very much alive. Also Donna's daughter, who had been for fostered, has gone missing. Is she with her dad somewhere ?

Donna hires a keen as mustard young PI Anna Gardiner to find her missing daughter, and Anna calls on the policeman in charge of the Alan Langford case - Tom Thorne. The story now impinges directly on Tom's private life. He and Lousie are not communicating any more, and Anna and Tom just hit it off. I thought this was to be the end of Tom and Louise, and the start of Tom and Anna - but the author fooled me, in part anyway.

The main plot takes Tom to a part of Spain that we know very well - to Malaga, Marbella, Bellamadena, and the village of Mijas. It was interesting to read about these places in a crime novel.

Since losing her baby, Louise and Tom are skating around, avoiding difficult conversations. Both work long hours - sometimes they hardly see each other. Hendricks is caught in the middle. They had planned to sell both their houses and buy something together - but that move was necessitated by the baby, and so that subject too is off limits. Tom always finds it difficult to talk about his feelings - but strangely he can talk to Anna, and Anna even shares his love of country and western music.

But Louise still wants a bay, and suggests that it is hopeless whilst they are both working flat out in the police force. They should both pack it in. Could Tom do this? What would he do ? These questions are left dangling at the end of the book.

There is quite a thrilling ending for Tom and Donna who find Alan in Spain. All in all, a very good story, and we have to read on to see what happens next for Tom and Louise.

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Good as Dead     (2011)

I read this book in August, 2017.

This excellent series continues with book 10 about a siege where a police woman Helen Weekes, mother of a young baby, is held hostage by a Pakistani shop keeper Javid Akhtar at the end of his tether following the death in youth detention of his son Amin. Everyone says it was suicide, but Javid cannot accept this. His protests fall on deaf ears until he takes two hostages at gun point. He gets action then ! Amin and two friends had been attacked by 3 white youths, one of whom produced a knife, and in the ensuing struggle one of the white attackers was unintentially stabbed and killed by Amin. Javid convinced Amin that he would get a fair trial but inexplicably (not really inexplicably as the stunning explanation is revealed at the end of the book) Amin gets a severe custodial sentence. Amin had been attacked, not the other way round. The Officer in charge was DI Thorne who was equally shocked at the sentence. When Javid takes Helen Weekes hostage he asks for DI Thorne by name, and gives him a few days deadline to investigate his son's apparent suicide. Thorne has to rush around, cut all the corners going, and break more than a few rules to save Helen's life. Thorne knows, and we know, that even if / when he solves the case in the nick of time, not only will he got no credit, but he will probably be suspended, disciplined, and goodness knows what. It's simply not fair !

Of course Amin was murdered, and Thorne (and Kitson and Dave Holland and Phil) do solve the case remarkably in three days. It all builds to a terrific climax, Helen is saved of course, and reunited with her baby, but Thorne is suspended without pay, and is awaiting his fate. We must wait for book eleven to see what happens to Thorne. Brighouse says Thorne has gone too far, and he cannot save him this time.

There is a lot happening in the main plot, but equally a lot in Thorne's private life. He has decided to make a few changes. Firstly he has got rid of his old BMW classic / banger, and replaced it with a newish, reliable 5 series BMW. Next he plans to get his flat sold, and move to a new one. He has also applied for a transfer to a new division within the police force. His friend Phil tells him, this is a one change too many ! But the biggest change of all is that Tom Thorne and Louise have split - their relationship could not survive Louise's miscarriage, and Tom's inability to grieve / discuss his feelings. Of course, we all saw it coming, but nevertheless let's agree it's a great shame, and leave it at that.

There are a series of surprises at the end of the story. Javid learns the truth but as Thorne warned him, it's not a comforting truth. The identity of who is behind the conspiracy to kill Amin does come as a shock. And in the final few pages Tom is not alone in his bed anymore. The book opens with a baby and closes with one. I like symmetry - it's really good writing.

Roll on book eleven.

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The Dying Hours     (2013)

I read this book in September, 2017.

This is book 11 in an excellent series about London based DI Tom Thorne. I did like this book, but I hated the ending. We read all the way through the book to see if Tom can escape from his current predicament - in effect he has been demoted, and is back on the streets no longer as a detective but as a uniform policeman - and at the end of the book this is left completely in the air. Will he be a detective again, or is it to be further punishment? By all means entice us to read the next book, but this is just too blatent !

For most of the book it is a straight forward story. Tony Mercer is a psychopath who has now served his time, and is out of prison again. But he is working his way through a long list, getting revenge on all who got him sent down. Although an old man now, somehow he is able to get his victims to commit suicide. To the police it just seems a series of unrelated suicides. Only Tom Thorne has worked out what is going on, but when he approaches the local detectives - he is now in a police station in South London - he is ridiculed and sent packing. And so, he must go after Tony Mercer himself. He has been warned off, not to risk the rest of his police career, but he not only ignores this, but he enlists help from his former colleagues - Kitson, and Dave Holland. Both have young families to support - it is simply not fair to ask them to risk their careers too, but Thorne is obsessed. They reluctantly help, out of friendship. Hendricks helps out too.

The other story here is that Tom is now living with Helen - the DI in the child abuse section whom he rescued in the previous book - and her baby son Alfie. Mostly they are getting on very well - but Tom is lying to Helen about his continuing unofficial Tony Mercer investigations. It is another common theme in crime fiction that if the main character has a partner and young "son," criminals can get back at him by attacking his loved ones.

Tom Thorne is obsessed in his chase after Mercer - which is mostly justified in that no one else is interested. But Mercer discovers that he is being pursued by Thorne and decides to retaliate. And so we have a terrific climax to the story. I cannot say more in case I spoil things for you, but be warned about the non ending.

Overall it's a good read, and I thought it a good trick to demote Thorne, and transfer him to South London - he hates to cross the river. Somehow or other, Tom has found two treasures in Helen and Alfie. Let's hope he doesn't let them down.

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The Bones Beneath     (2014)

I read this book in October, 2017.

This is book 12 in Mark Billingham's excellent series about DI Tom Thorne, and the good news is that Tom is still with Helen and young Alfie, and is back in North London.

I didn't like the ending of the previous book which left us in the air as to what might happen next. This book starts off exactly where the previous book ends, and explains about the good news and the bad news. The good news is that Tom is being transferred back to his old job as a detective inspector working alongside Kitson, and Dave Holland in the murder squad. The bad news is that this is only because he then has a terrible assignment. The jailed psychopath, but fiendishly clever Stuart Nicklin whom Tom battled against at great cost in previous books, has been in contact with a dead boy victim's mum, and has promised to reveal the whereabouts of the body he buried some 25 years previously, but only if Thorne agrees to accompany him. The mum starts a campaign, etc., etc. In short, Tom has no real choice, but he fears that none of this is to end well.

Nicklin has buried the body on a remote Bardsey Island off the Welsh coast - a place almost deserted apart from one farmer and some birdwatchers. It is only reached with difficulty by small boat, weather permitting, and is so remote that there is only one spot on the island where there is an intermittent mobile phone signal. Bardsey island is beautiful, a very special place steeped in history, a sort of spiritual retreat and ancient burial site of kings and saints. Stuart Nicklin wants a fellow prisoner Jeff Batchelor to accompany him - he says he is afraid that Thorne might attack him if there were no witnesses. Tom knows that Stuart is playing mind games, but has no option. Two prison guards are to accompany Nicklin and Batchelor, and Dave Holland and DS Samir Karim make up Thorne's team. There is also a civilian scene of crime team in the party, one of whom is an exhibits officer, Wendy Markham. Wendy seems to have a thing about Tom Thorne - will he be able to resist, and stay faithful to Helen ?

We also have several other stories unfolding in front of us. Someone has disturbed two "burglars" in his flat, has been kidnapped, has been attacked by a young woman with a scalpel, but is being kept alive for some purpose. The point of this story and the identity of the flat owner is part of a stunning revelation at the end of the book - one I did not see coming. We also have a flashback story telling us more about Stuart Nicklin and his young chum / victim all those years ago on Bardsey Island. Jeff Batchelor also has his story told, and it too has a punch at the end.

It is obvious that Nicklin has planned well, but what are these plans ? There are two possibilities. Tom Thorne won the previous contest with Nicklin. Can he win again, good defeating evil? Or will Nicklin prevail on the basis that Tom can't win all the time. This of course would set up the need for a later deciding encounter. I mused earlier about a familiar theme in crime fiction. The trouble with Tom having a partner in Helen and a young "son" Alfie is that his enemies can get at him through them. Mark Billingham is not so obvious !

All in all, it's a terrific story and a terrific series.

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Time of Death     (2015)

I read this book in November, 2017.

This is book 13 in the excellent DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. For quite a while I thought it was a very good story if you could ignore the nonsensical premise on which it seemed to be built - i.e. Helen dropping everything and returning to Polesford to help out a so called friend that she had never mentioned before. I was completeley wrong to think this - I should have known and trusted Mark Billingham better. What doesn't make sense to Tom Thorne and to us, Helen's distant manner and coolness to Tom does have a terrible explanation that is revealed towards the end of the book, and then it more than makes sense. We should have guessed earlier !

I've been jumping ahead though. It's long been a standing joke that Tom Thorne doesn't like being south of the Thames. Now it seems he doesn't like being in the countryside either. However Helen promises Tom that they need not go walking, nor visit antique shops, and so Helen and Tom are on a hastilty arranged holiday in the Cotswolds. Helen's dad is looking after young Alfie. The main news item at the time is the kidnapping of two young girls from the Warwickshire town of Polesford. Helen and Tom are watching a news update on the TV in their hotel room. A suspect Stephen Bates, a family man, has been arrested, and Helen is horrified to discover that she knows Bates's wife Linda, who is an old school friend and now seems to be under siege. Helen says she must drop everything, and go to Linda's aid. Tom of course feels obliged to tag along. And so we find ourselves in Polesford. This we discover is the the town where Helen grew up, but escaped from, never talked about, and never returned. Why now, what is the connection between Linda Bates and Helen? Helen is obviously in turmoil, and hates the place, and is being very off hand with Tom. What is the story ?

Tom sort of mooches around Polesford - in the pub there is a lot of banter about a local farmer, one of whose piglets has been stolen. Why are we being told this? The badly decomposed body of one of the young kidnapped girls is found buried in the woods. Soon Tom gets caught up in the buzz of a major murder investigation, but he is from the Met, has no local status, and his interfering is not well received. Complaints go upwards, sideways, and down again, and Brighouse, Tom's boss, orders Tom to leave well alone. But of course Tom cannot - he doubts that the buried body has been buried all that long. In short, he questions the "Time of Death," phones Hendricks for advice and Hendricks decides to join Tom and Helen. Tom thinks Bates is not the murderer, and one of the girls is still alive and must be rescued.

It all gets sorted in the end of course, and for once Tom comes out of it all with no threat of suspension hanging over him. Even Hendricks has a happy ending. Perhaps you will have noticed I have not said anything about Helen having a happy ending.

In short, another terrific story.

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Love Like Blood     (2017)

I read this book in May, 2018.

This is the 14th book in the DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham, and it's another winner. Tom is still living with his girlfriend Helen, and her little son Alfie. Tom and Alfie have really bonded, so Tom at last has a stable home life. His pathologist friend Phil Hendricks is still there too, also with a steady partner, and Tom still works in the same major crimes unit, alongside DI Kitson, and with DCI Brigstocke as his boss.

Strangely this story is all about honour killings - strange because it was also the subject of the previous book that I had read - M. H. Baylis's Black Day at the Bosphorus Cafe. "Love Like Blood" is also about honour killings in Muslim / Asian / Hindu families. The book opens with the seeming murder of DI Nicola Tanner, but the pair of assassins had got the wrong victim. Nicola had switched cars with her lesbian partner Susan Best, a school teacher, and it was Susan that got killed. Nicola has a reputation for being prim and proper, for doing everything by the book, but she is devastated by Susan's murder, and wants revenge. Because of her personal interest she is not allowed to work on the case, and so she approaches someone who has a very different reputation - DI Thorne - for help. Of course he says yes to a fellow officer under attack, but Tom is very subdued for the first part of the book. Nicola had heard that Tom broke all the rules , but here she blames him for not pulling his weight. Phil explains to Nicola that Tom is all the things she has heard, but he doesn't like being used. It is as if he has to play Watson to Nicola's Holmes. But of course, Tom must defer to Nicola - it was her partner who was found blinded with acid, and stabbed in their home.

Nicola had been investigating honour killings. Typically an older generation set great store by tradition, by women being subservient, by family, and the family name that must not be dishonoured. Some of the younger generation were rebelling and wanting to live a modern western life, and some families had resorted to hiring a pair of assassins to take care of the problem for them. The assassin pair are an Irish oaf Muldoon, and a clever Muslim Riaz. Nicola had learned that this pair travelled the world taking care of family problems, in a very professional way for an appropriate (expensive) fee, and that this pair had attacked Susan in an attempt to kill Nicola who was getting too close. The pair of assassins usually do a job, and then disappear, but this time they are still around. Why ? Possibly because the contract to kill Nicola is incomplete . Strangely Nicola is pleased that they are still around - she doesn't seem to appreciate that she is still a target.

Of course, Nicola gets attacked, and then we see the old Tom Thorne reappear. But there are lots of twists and surprises. There is even a surprise that links Tom back to a case his partner Helen is working on.

All in all, it's another good outing for Tom Thorne - it really is an excellent "division one" series. I am confident that we will meet Nicola again too.

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The Killing Habit     (2018)

I read this book in May, 2018.

I am really enjoying this series. It is based in London and features DI Tom Thorne who is a bit of a rebel to put it mildly, and who doesn't mind bending a few rules. We also have equal billing for DI Nicola Tanner in this story. She started off very prim and proper who went by the rules, but when her partner Susan was killed she switched, and now she is every bit as rule bending as Tom. In a climax to this book she suffers a terrible but understandable loss of control, and has to be rescued by Tom, but I am not sure where she will go in the future.

There are two main stories in this book. Andrew Evans used to be a respectable chap with a wife and child, but he killed a child when using his phone whilst driving, and got a jail sentence. Inside he started taking drugs, spice, which he got free from the "Duchess", a prison visitor - use now, pay later. On release his life is a mess. He is a drug addict, and is having to repay his drug debts up by pushing drugs and in turn menacing people to pay up. Someone is shot and DI Nicola Tanner arrests him with sufficient evidence to have him convicted. So apparently it's case solved, and she is available to help on another case. The other case is one given to DI Tom Thorne. There have been mass killings of cats which have been going on for some time, and the papers are calling for the police to catch the culprit. So it's Toms case. It's recognised that some sadists who kill and mutilate cats often graduate to do worse - killing and mutilating people. So Tom is really asked to catch a potential future serial killer, and he asks for DI Tanner to help. Once asigned to help Tom, it seems Nicola's open and shut case against Andrew Evans is a lot more complicated. So Tom and Nicola are suposed to be working as a team on both cases. Tom thinks that rather than the cat killing being a prelude to worse in the future, it could be that we have an already active serial killer who kills and mutilates cats as a side line / a relaxation. Usually labelled as contrary, Tom is now described as "counter intuitive." Changed days for Tom, and of course he is right, there is a serial killer about. Nicola and Tom set a trap for the serial killer, but is all goes wrong, and the killer, far more intelligent than they thought, now goes after Tom and Nicola. It's a real page turner that builds to a terrific climax.

In the private life story, Tom is still working for DCI Brighouse along side most of his old colleagues, and is still friends with Phil Hendricks. He is still living with Helen and young Alfie in South London, but wants to return to more familiar territory north of the river. Tom and Helen are both police officers who work terrible hours in very stressful, demanding, sometimes thankless jobs. Time together is precious, but is being spoiled by Helen's sister Jenny who has a real down on Tom Thorne - he is a slob, not nearly good enough for you, Helen, etc. She is trying to poison the relationship, Helen is caught in the middle, relies on Jenny for baby sitting Alfie, and sometimes the atmosphere between Helen and Tom suffers. Tom is determined to tackle the problem and invites Jenny out for a meal, just Tom and Helen, to get the matter solved. Being a good writer Mark Billingham teases us - Tom is dining "a deux" with some lady companion - is it Nicola, is it a psychologist profiler ? Only later do we realise that the dinner companion is Jenny, and there is a surprising reason why Jenny is spreading poison.

It's all very well written. Nicola has returned to work far too soon after Susan's death, and is still distraught at her loss. She loved Susan dearly, misses her so much, and Susan appears in sometimes nightmareish dreams. Nicola decides to sell the house she shared with Susan - with the money she can buy a smaller flat, and perhaps somewhere in the country for weekends too? She asks Tom to accompany her on her flat hunt. Tom says he knows nothing about such matters, has no taste and can contribute nothing, but Nicola is helping Tom on his cat killing / serial killer case, so Tom agrees to accompany Nicola. Thus, Tom joining Nicola in her flat search sets up a terrific end sequence that of course I have no intention of spoiling. Great stuff.

I can see this series running and running so long as Mark Billingham does not tire of it. Fingers crossed !

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Their Little Secret     (2019)

I read this book in August, 2020.

This is mostly another good story in the London based DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. It was as well written as always but one thing spoiled it for me - one of the main subplots was completely unbelievable. I'll say more about Sarah later, but her son Jamie was imaginery. She simply could not get away with mingling with the other "mums" as they all wait to collect their children outside the school gates. They would want to know whose class "Jamie" was in, and someone's son would be in that class but say there was no "Jamie". A completely stupid idea ! Otherwise it's business as usual for the old team - Tom, DI Nicola Tanner, Tom's best friend Hendricks, the homosexual, tatoo and piercing adorned forensic examiner, and DCI Brigshaw, Tom's boss.

There are two big related updates to the private lives story. Some months ago, when grief stricken Nicola was barely functioning, she made a big, career threatening mistake, but Tom and Hendricks covered for her, slightly tampered with evidence, and Hendricks bent his forensic report to exonerate Tanner. Now of course, Tanner is ashamed and horrified, wants to come clean, but she cannot do that without ending Tom and Hendricks' careers. How could she do that when they went out on a limb for her ? Around the time this was going on, Tom became more moody that usual, and this combined with other things so that Tom's girlfriend Helen decided their relationship wasn't working and asked Tom to move out, away from her and little Alfie. So now Tom is back in his old flat in North London (he never liked South of the river), drinking with Hendricks in his old pub "The Clifton Arms", and then off to "The Lancer" for a curry. Tom is not sure how he feels about the split from Helen, if it is permanent, or if he is free to start dating again. He does miss Alfie. Will they, won't they get together again runs for most of the book, but at the end it seems Tom and Helen are finished. Tom wonders if he should ask Elle Fulton out - someone he interviews in a murder enquiry - and there are suggestions at the end of the book that Tom and the police consultant Dr Melita Perera are to get together. No doubt, we will learn more in the next book.

In the main plots we get a not unusual coming together of two separate investigations, so Tom and Nicola end up working the same case. The book opens with the suicide of Pip Goodwin, and Tom has to do a quick check to see if there are any suspicious circumstances. Only Tom thinks there are, and he is right. Tom interviews Pip's sister Mary Fulton, and Mary's daughter Elle. They blame "Patrick Jenkins" for Pip's death. Patrick was a suave confidence trickster who won Pip's love, got 70k from her, and disappeared. Tom vows to track down serial trickster "Patrick" - later we find out that "Patrick" is really Conrad Simkin. Meanwhile Nicola Tanner is investigating the "Sarah" story - a woman pretending to be a mum and even entering her fictitious son Jamie's school. One is a con artist, one is delusional but the plot explodes when "Patrick" selects "Sarah" as his next potential victim. They recognise each other as liars, and by some trick of chemistry fall madly in love and bond. Together they are evil. "Sarah" is really Michelle Sarah Suzman. Sarah devises a test for Conrad. As Michelle she goes to Margate, picks up a 17 year old lad Kevin Deane, lures him to a quiet spot on the beach, they have sex, and Conrad kills the young lad. Later there is at least one other murder - teacher Gemma Maxwell threatened to expose "Sarah" and was killed. Who did the killing - Conrad or Sarah ? Much, much later, after Sarah has absconded, one of the school mums, Heather Turnbull, meets Sarah by chance. Heather goes missing, never to be seen again.

I won't give away more of the plot, but will give a teaser - at one time both Sarah and Conrad are being sick at the same time, but for very different reasons. Justice is done in the end. I thought it a good story but couldn't believe that Sarah could successfully fool the other mums in to believing that she had a son Jamie at the same school. All in all, it remains a good series, and I look forward to reading the next episode.

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Cry Baby     (2020)

I read this book in August, 2021.

This is book 17 in the London based DI Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham. It is interesting in that it is a prequel, set in 1996, when Tom was a DS working for a boss he didn't like - DI Gordon Boyle, Scottish, quick to pass the blame, quick to claim any credit. The DCI is Andy Frankham, and interestingly Tom is sharing a room at the station with fellow DS Russell Brigstocke - who will eventually become his boss. Tom is still haunted by and has nightmares about the Frank Calvert case of 10 years ago. Clavert had attended the station to give a statement, and as Tom showed him out, he shook his hand, and knew somehow that this man was the murderer, and Clavert knew that he knew. Tom was a DC and told no one for 2 days, but then investigated himself and, breaking into Calvert's flat, found Mrs Calvert dead, and their three little girls, Lauren, Samantha, and Anne-Marie laid out in a neat line on their bed, all slaughtered. Tom blames himself for not acting on that one flash of insight that was never to be repeated - in his nightmares he dreams that he saves the little girls, then wakes to know he didn't save them.

The book opens with two mums and their childen meeting in a park. Maria Ashton, middle class, divorced from her doctor husband Jeff, is the mother of Josh, and Catlin Boyle is Kieron's mum. Catlin lives in a high rise in a poor area - her partner Billy Boyle is doing 10 years in jail for attempted murder. The boys are best friends and look alike, sometimes taken for brothers. The book is cleverly written, and not everything is as it seems. The story sort of unfolds and catches us by surprise. So, perhaps Billy is not really Kieron's dad ? Anyway Cat wanders off to leave Maria watching the boys, and the lads enter a nearby wood to play hide and seek. Only Josh emerges - Kieron has vanished / been kidnapped. Tom had been at the station when someone had said the dreaded "q" word (it's quiet), and sure enough the phone goes. Tom and DS Paula Kimmel attend. One crucial witness Felix Barrat says he saw a boy with a man, and they got in a small red car. The boy and the man seemed to know each other. This clue causes suspicion to fall on Kieron's teacher Simon Jenner, and also on a drug addict neighbour Grantleigh Figgis. Figgis, discovered by Tom, and once accused (falsely) of child molesting, is a hot suspect whose name is leaked to the press, and is hounded by them. He claims he has an alibi - which Adam Munro later confirms - but Boyle does not check this. Figgis is later found dead in his flat of an apparent drug overdose. The duty pathologist, Dr Phil Hendricks, refuses to attend a bog standard drug overdose death - causing instant dislike between Hendricks and Tom. Hendricks is "unconventional," covered by tatoos, and many body piercings. We know they later become best friends - although Tom supports Spurs, and Hendricks, Arsenal. Hendricks is gay, but Tom seems unaware of this. Hendricks says it is not a bog standard drug overdose - someone gave Figgis medical grade morphine, not the street adulterated kind. He says tests will confirm this - and they do.

The story now takes off, and there is a second murder. With all the publicity Kieron's real father, an old boyfriend of Cat's, Dean Meade turns up, and is quick to sell his story to an eager press. Yet another "reporter" chats to him in a pub, and is taken home for another lucrative interview - but this is no reporter, and the photographer has a knife, not a camera. Is Billy Boyle behind all this - a violent man now learning that Catlin had been unfaithful? However Angie, Billy's sister, seems very friendly, and very supportive for Cat who is beyond distraught with the anguish of a missing child. After 7 days and no luck, it seems the police are now looking for a body, not a missing child. However, in chapter 17, against the odds, we find that Kieron is still alive, and being held captive by a man in a remote house. He seems to be keeping himself cheerful by imaginary chats with his best friend Josh. Remember, not everything is as it seems ! Cat's friend Maria has been having trouble too - Josh is sent home from school for serious misbeaviour. Why is he so angry all the time ? As well as missing his best friend, is he also missing his father Jeff Ashton who had many faults as a husband, but was always a loving father. Josh does have real cause to be angry - as we will learn - but it is Josh who leaves a drawing in with Kieron's drawings that Tom spots, and so eventually solves the case.

It is interesting to read of Tom's early private life. Married for some 12 years to Jan, he had come home to find her making love to her creative writing teacher - so now they are separated, and Tom will have to sell the marital home and get a flat with half the proceeds. He spots one in Kentish town near an excellent Curry house - the Bengal Lancer. But he is in no rush to make things easy for Jan and her lover. Tom also wants to get his own back on Boyle, and reports him for running an incompetent enquiry.

I didn't think it was the strongest of stories, but the story fairly flowed along, and there were surprises at the end that I did not see coming. All in all, a good read from an excellnt crime writer.

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