The Killing Habit, Mark Billingham

Reviewed By
Andrea Thompson

A new drug called ‘spice’ is wreaking havoc in the UK prison system and the authorities have no clue as to how the prisoners are getting hold of it. As with all drug addictions, it’s a present from the inside to the outside when prisoners who have served their time are released with expensive new drug habits that need to be funded in any way possible.  Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner has made an arrest in relation to a murder that occurs during the collection of a drug debt on the outside and it seems that the police finally have a win on the board.   If only it were that simple.

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is happy to rope Tanner into his new inquiry as she appears to be winding up with her own.  A cat mutilator is on a spree in the area, which is disturbing enough without considering what else the killer might be up to when he or she is not out there taking innocent furry little lives under the cover of darkness.  Thorne’s experience has introduced him before to the theory that pet killings can escalate to killings of the human kind, and something about this recent spate is niggling a tile loose at the edge of his investigator’s mind. What if the recent escalation in pet killings represents not the start of a cycle, but more of a cooling off from something else?

As cat people and other sensible types have been saying for centuries (we’re sure…), a person with a violent and irrational hatred for cats must be ticking a box somewhere on a list of what personality traits might indicate a psychopath, right?  Today cats, tomorrow… you get the picture.  This as a lead-in plotline to THE KILLING HABIT was a sure-fire hook and there is an author’s afterword on this; please make sure you don’t skip the last few pages of the book once you’ve finished your novel.  Cat lovers out there, don’t worry, your no-go zone of animal cruelty in your crime fiction reading has not been fully breached in THE KILLING HABIT with there being no overly gory descriptions of the pet slayings included.  Mass cat killings are true enough occurrences though in the UK (and elsewhere we presume, for the escalation theory to continue to hold water).  Now, enough about the poor cats.

British author Mark Billingham has been writing crime novels now for eighteen years and the first of these was our introduction to the mate-we-wish-we-had which is Detective Inspector Tom Thorne.  Find him on the page, find him on the small screen.  Thorne’s character thankfully has not been one to stay fixed in the irascible but lovable detective mould and we’re now fifteen novels into his satisfyingly complex character study.  THE KILLING HABIT confirms to us once again that Thorne is a fictional work in progress as in this outing Thorne needs to react immediately and pragmatically to protect the welfare of a colleague.  His loyalties do not change but what he is prepared to do will always adapt to the current circumstance. He remains a very believable character with very relatable  reactions.

The inclusion of a new character in consulting psychiatrist Melita Perera is intriguing, and all of our series favourites appear in THE KILLING HABIT also. It’s a bit of a mind trap that a regular reader can be just so darn delighted to just find out what everyone is up to, that they can be more forgiving of a just an okay plot.  Not the case in this 2018 outing of Tom Thorne which is chock full of future plot threads that this solid fan can’t wait to read about.  THE KILLING HABIT scoots along with great speed, spins out the intrigue and spits the exhilarated reader out at the end, shocked when things go the way that they do. No spoilers, but if you are one of those people who sits around to the end of the credits, you’ll like this last-minute insertion of danger when you think the bad times have passed.

Mark Billingham is not afraid to introduce doubt in the reader and write of scenarios where the police sometimes can get things wrong and also that the right person is not always in the dock.  If you are after a series that constant delivers engaging and tightly written crime fiction, you can’t go wrong with these bestselling UK police procedurals.  THE KILLING HABIT is a harrowing novel about cruelty, deflection and confronting the dangers that are all around us, unaddressed.  If you are playing catch up like this reviewer, the next novel in the DI Tom Thorne series, THEIR LITTLE SECRET, is out now.


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How do you catch a killer who is yet to kill?

We've all heard about the signs: coldness, cruelty, lack of empathy. DI Tom Thorne knows the psychological profile of a psychopath all too well, so when pets start disappearing on suburban London streets, he sees a chance to stop a future murderer.

Others are less convinced, so Thorne relies on DI Nicola Tanner to help him solve the case, before the culprit starts hunting people. The journey brings them face to face with a killer who will tear their lives apart.

Review The Killing Habit, Mark Billingham
Andrea Thompson
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

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