Nothing new under the sun…
🙂 🙂 😐
Two schoolgirls have been abducted in the small town of Polesford, where Helen Weeks grew up. Helen and her partner DI Tom Thorne are on holiday when the news reports that a man has been arrested for the crimes, although no bodies have been found. When Helen realises that the man is the husband of an old friend of hers, she insists on going to Polesford to offer support. At first reluctant, Thorne soon finds himself interested in the investigation and at odds with the local police.
I read the first few books in the Tom Thorne series but lost touch with the series several years ago. While there is clearly a running story arc over Tom’s relationship with Helen, this book works perfectly well as a standalone. Past cases are referred to but not in a way that affects the understanding of the plot of this book.
My first impressions were pretty favourable – the serial killer storyline is increasingly hackneyed but Billingham tells the story well, and I initially liked the characters of both Tom and Helen. Although I picked up along the way that their partnership is fairly new, it was refreshing to have the detective in a seemingly stable, loving relationship. Thorne has some baggage from past cases, but is a functional detective, well able to handle the pressures of the job, and oh joy! He doesn’t have a drink problem! In fact, early on in the book Billingham has a sly dig at the cliché of the angst-ridden drunken maverick of current crime fiction.
There’s nothing terribly original in the storyline, and it’s pretty slow in places with a good deal of repetition. However Billingham keeps the tension flowing for the most part by skilfully casting suspicion on most of the male characters in turn. It’s interesting to see the story from the perspective of the family of the accused, although they’re all so unlikeable I couldn’t develop much sympathy for them. And it all leads up in the end to the usual thriller ending.
Overall, for the quality of the writing and storytelling I’d have rated this quite highly but for two things. The first is the ridiculous amount of unnecessary bad language, which is constant all the way through. Most of it is fairly low-level, simply a sign of a lack of imagination and facility in the author’s use of vocabulary, but some of it is pretty strong. And of course it adds nothing to the story.
Mild spoiler alert!
(You might want to skip the next paragraph if you’re planning on reading the book.)
But the thing that annoyed me more, especially after Billingham mocking the maverick cop cliché himself, was that Helen and Tom suddenly turned into violent criminals halfway through – beating up a teenager in front of his friends (who fortunately seemed to be the only teenagers in Britain without smartphones to film it on) for the heinous crime of spitting, with no repercussions. (Did I mention Helen’s job is to deal with child victims – good grief!) From that point on, the book lost any credibility and the characters lost any appeal for me. If every fictional police officer must be a violent criminal, the least authors could do is try to make it believable. (Hint for all the brutal and corrupt fictional police officers out there – take your victim up a dark alley, alone, and check there are no CCTV cameras around. It’s hardly rocket science…)
(End of spoiler)
To sum up, a standard serial killer police procedural, quite well-written, slow in places, with lots of swearing, a bit of angst, the obligatory child abuse angle, and some gratuitous and silly police brutality. Same old, same old…
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.