By Mark Billingham
London Detective Tom Thorne is called to a hostage scene. Another detective, Helen Weeks, is being held by Javed Akhtar, a newsagent. Akhtar demands Thorne find out the truth behind the death of his son, Amin, who was an inmate in a juvenile prison. When Thorne starts investigating, he discovers anomalies in the supposed suicide and determines murder has been committed. He also ferrets out secrets. Secrets about Amin which may connect to the original charge that landed him in prison, and secrets that may lead to a motive and a killer. Thorne races against time to provide answers, but will those answers be enough to save Helen?
It’s a plot seen before. Some typical ‘secrets’ that may even be expected. Still a nice mystery.
Helen Weeks: detective in the Child Protection Unit, mother of a young son, chews gum in place of smoking, addicted to chocolate, Boyfriend was run down just over a year previous at a bus stop
Tom Thorne: detective in the Area West Homicide unit in London but wants to transfer to another unit, selling his flat, losing hearing a bit in right ear, drives a BMW, recently broke up with girlfriend after a miscarriage, likes country music
Javed Akhtar: newsagent (also sells drinks and snacks), short, prematurely balding, usually smiles, mid 50s, former banker, married with two children and one deceased
Stephen Mitchell: short hair, soft high voice with a trace of a London accent, married, banker
A nice array of characters, from the gung-ho cop wanting to go in with guns ablaze to the various prison inmates and friends of Amin. A few minor characters to round out the story who aren’t all that important.
Good give and take between cop and bad guy, between cop and coroner, between hostage and hostage taker. Some lengthy explanations but nothing boring.
Various lengths of chapters. Many chapters contain different scenes as the focus shifts to different areas of the story all happening at the same time.
I know the story covers only a few days so to speed things up, they have to cheat a little on forensic facts. However, I’ve learned a few things in seminars with people with actual police and investigatory experience. Unless there is some new thing on the market, under the best of circumstances, DNA analysis cannot come back in under three days. Billingham talks hours. A minor mistake many people wouldn’t catch, basically because we’ve been dumbed down by shows such as CSI.
Otherwise, the action is subdued. Some profanity but not over used. Many British terminology, but that’s understandable. At times I felt it could speed up a bit. It didn’t necessarily drag; there were just some long moments of stuff I wanted to get through quicker.