A killer who believes he has lost everything has no fear of being caught. A grieving man, this new killer has decided sending pictures with a text message to D.I. Tom Thorne's mobile phone are the best bet to draw the policeman's attention, operating presumably on the premise that a picture speaks a thousand words. A dead body usually looks like a dead body so the deed has already been done, but Thorne has no idea who the victim might be.
Your opinion of this novel will be determined greatly by what aspect of the series you've come to deem most worthy of your attention. Snappy dialogue is of course a-plenty, and Tom Thorne, however how dark he becomes, is always a hoot. This we'd expect from a writer who once relied on stand-up comedy to pay his bills. If the push-and-shove of modern policing, with its array of colourful characters, is what interests you there will be no disappointments there either. Where DEATH MESSAGE takes its turn is in the processing of the crime itself. Thorne dispenses with standard operating procedures to the point of irritation, and this is reflected in the annoyance Billingham has his secondary characters express at Thorne's behaviour. Thorne's character is not quite the rogue operator yet but walks closer to becoming so in this work, which is something the regular reader of this series may have been expecting with events detailed in previous novels. Thorne has more pain and hate to carry along with him, and this is all borne in the environment of developing a new romantic relationship. Billingham has put a few more spikes his creation this time round and as always, you can't help but be at least partially on the side of Thorne as he keeps his own ledger on who has done him wrong.
Back story is incorporated well into the present events so new readers to the series shouldn't have trouble with the flow of events. The character of Thorne still manages to surprise with unexpected reactions to developments in the police investigation, the details of which are carried mostly inside Thorne's crowded head. The new foibles such as the internet gambling, are a delight under Billingham's clever hand and serve to further endear his leading man to us. Thorne placed in his early forties hasn't yet entered grumpy old man territory, but the promise is there that process will only enrich the character. Are these novels character driven? Yes, as this is the writer's strength.
DEATH MESSAGE is the seventh entry in the Tom Thorne series. Mark Billingham is currently working on his next novel, a stand-alone thriller titled IN THE DARK.
THE ART OF DROWNING - Frances Fyfield
Rachel Doe needs to sort out her life. She's had such a sheltered, cautious existence; an accountant, only daughter of very timid parents, the only really daring thing she has done in her life was to dob in her lover - a liar and thief. All she got for her efforts was suspicion and a greater sense of loneliness and isolation than she had ever had before.
When Rachel meets Ivy she's totally captivated and they soon become involved in a very intense, platonic friendship which surprises everyone. Ivy is so different from Rachel, she was a real wild child - charismatic; a life-drawing model; ex-junkie; cleaner and ex-wife of Carl - now a Judge. The relationship is even more intense for Rachel as she finds, in Ivy's mother Grace, the sort of mother figure that her own never was, encompassing, loving, fun and ever so slightly happy crazy, Rachel is ultimately as attracted to Ivy's family as she is to Ivy.
Ivy's divorce from Carl came after the drowning of their daughter in a lake not far from Ivy's family farm. Since the divorce she has had no contact with her son. Rachel finds herself trying to bring about a reconciliation, at least between Ivy's parents and their grandson. Whilst she is repulsed by Carl and the stories of his violence and cruelty towards Ivy, she also finds herself strangely attracted to him. Can this charming, considerate man really be the monster that tore Ivy's son from her arms and caused the death of his own daughter?
As the friendship between Rachel and Ivy escalates and Rachel's attempts to firstly contact the Judge and then get him to agree to meet with Ivy's parents, there is a slow building of tension. Events occur around them that appear to have no relationship to what is happening between the main players in the story, but at the same time, the reader is made more and more aware that there's something very odd going on. The story unfolds rapidly and whilst you can guess that there's something really sinister going on, the question is what exactly is that "something".
There's a great sense of escalating tension and conflict in this book. Rachel is an interesting character as she moves from infatuation with Ivy, through doubt, to justification and denial, and finally strength and inner steel. Ivy is very edgy, intense and obviously complex. The surrounding characters are flawed, human and retain your interest. There is a bit of subtext around the story - the difficulties of farming life, Carl and his life with a teenage son, a sympathetic and overworked policeman and his own family.
Having read quite a few Frances Fyfield books in the past, THE ART OF DROWNING is definitely a major standout, it was compelling, retained interest and was nicely paced with a very realistic and satisfactory ending.
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL - Christopher Brookmyre
DS Gillespie suspects they are not dealing with the sharpest pencils in the box when she's called to the discovery of two partially disfigured, roughly hidden bodies in the forest. The reputation of the killers is not enhanced greatly when they leave the receipts for all the gear they bought for disposing of the bodies behind, but the whole thing moves further into the surreal for Gillespie when she can identify both the victims as locals and people she knows all too well from her own school days.
A TALE ETCHED moves between school days in the 1970's and the current events and investigation as more and more of Gillespie's old school pals are pulled in. The switching of perspective between the two timeframes slowly reveals the development of the core characters from who they became at school, to what they are in their adult lives.
In typical Brookmyre fashion this is at times absolutely hilarious and at times very painful. These stories bring back so many of the trials and tribulations of childhood - the desperate need to "fit in", the bullying, the cliques, the rises and falls from grace, sadistic teachers, ineffectual teachers, family dysfunction, deeply felt-friendship and always remembered embarrassments.
In the end, there is a mystery about who killed these two victims and why - the why having more twists and turns that are revealed as more and more of the growing years of the central characters are revealed.
Whilst it's typical of Brookmyre to mix utter side splitting hilarity with a serious message and undertone, there's something in A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL that made it compelling. Maybe you needed to go to a primary school for it to grab you, but boy did this grab.
DEATH DANCE - Linda Fairstein
Death Dance is the 8th book Linda Fairstein's series featuring Alexander Cooper. This was my third outing with Alex Cooper, having read a couple of the early books in the series sometime ago, and it was particularly interesting to see where the series had gone in the intervening years.
Alex is an Assistant District Attorney, working in the sex crime division, passionately devoted to her job and to the victims she sees herself as representing. Teamed up firstly with long-time friend Mercer Wallace, they are investigating the drugging rape of two visiting Canadian girls, when called to a missing prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Natalya Galinova after first being listed as officially missing, is eventually found brutally killed in the backstage area of the Opera House. Alex and Mercer team up with Mike Chapman, the third member of a group of long-time friends and colleagues, to investigate the murder. They do this in and around the backstage of the Opera House and amongst some powerful players in the New York theatre world.
Along with these two major investigations, the NY Police are also trying to track down a serial rapist who is attacking women in local parks.
The central plot regarding the death of the ballerina takes most of the focus in the book and, aside from Alex having a life long love of ballet, it was never really clear why a sex-crime prosecutor would be involved so closely in the non-sex related death of Galinova. The investigation of the death proceeds very slowly, intertwined with some interesting aspects of the Opera House, theatre venues in New York and with a cast of "theatre types" both management and talent. There is an unfortunate inconsistency in some of that follow-up which dragged me right out of the story and some fem-jep towards the end which really seemed too convenient. Meanwhile, the investigation into the rape of the two Canadian girls proceeds quickly and a suspect is easily identified. The resolution of that crime is less satisfactory from Alex's point of view, but could have struck a strong chord of reality if the final page dramatic climax had been avoided. The rapist in the park is also resolved but again, the methodology used is a little out of the blue and the plot line never really got much focus throughout the book.
One of the strengths of this book is the long-term relationship between the three investigators. They know each other well and have been through a lot together. The references to previous events, presumably from earlier books, are quite easy to assimilate and give a real feeling for the long-term friendship.
The rather crowded plot; the inexplicable actions in a sub-part of the ballerina's death; a glaring piece of fem-jep which seemed rather unnecessary, and a final "rapping up" of absolutely every loose end on all the sub-plots on the final pages of the book detracted. For me, this was an interesting read, but not one of my all-time favourites from this author.
ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT - Christopher Brookmyre
Gavin is a holiday tour operator turned big spending resort developer who was invisible at school. Simone, his wife, has had enough of Gavin and his philandering and wants a divorce, although Gavin doesn't know that yet. Catherine is the PR agent for the oil-rig resort and for reasons that even she doesn't even seem to understand, Gavin's latest lover. Matt is a successful stand-up comedian turned wealthy but less successful celebrity due to his part in an American sitcom, and Davie is a violent nutcase turned family-man painter.
What they all have in common is that they all went to the same Glasgow high school, and Gavin, in an attempt to rub in his success, has arranged a large school reunion on his latest project - an oil-rig turned luxury resort. Unfortunately along with the reminiscing and rekindling of old relationships, there is also the unexpected arrival of terrorist hijackers armed with machine-guns, rocket-launchers and not a whole lot of planning.
Whilst the bulk of their schoolmates are held captive, it is up to Matt, Simone, Catherine and Davie to save the day. To do that they team up with the charming and slightly mysterious security consultant Tim Vale and Hector McGregor the hapless, one day into retirement, police officer who stumbles upon the scene in his tartan pyjamas, still a little bit miffed about the local police treating him like a suspect when he was knocked unconscious by a severed arm.
This is classic Christopher Brookmyre. Social commentary, incisive and razor sharp observations of human nature and behaviour, all wrapped up in a rollicking lunatic scenario that is so over the top you have to wonder if it really did happen. Definitely gory, definitely confrontational and definitely not to be missed.