Time of Death by Mark Billingham
I bought Time of Death from Mark Billingham last year at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers’ Festival, but my “to be read” file was so big it took me several months to get around to reading it. Mark Philip David Billingham is an English novelist, actor, television screenwriter and comedian whose series of “Tom Thorne” crime novels are best-sellers in that particular genre. I normally enjoy his books, but I found this one less interesting than most.
This is the thirteenth Tom Thorne novel, so Mark is probably entitled to an occassional “pot-boiler”. Time of Death is a story of kidnapping, the tabloid press, and of mistaken identity. Tom Thorne is on holiday with his girlfriend DS Helen Weeks, when two school girls are abducted in Helen’s home town Polesford in Warwickshire. This is a place full of secrets, where dangerous truths lie buried. When it’s splashed all over the press that family man Stephen Bates has been arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege with two teenage children and convinced of her husband’s innocence.
The plot is complex and there are, of course, a few red herrings to keep you on your toes. There are a couple of story arcs but I felt Helen’s personal story was a bit predictable, considering the issues in the news currently. It felt lazy, albeit that she brings attention to contemporary problems prevalent in our society. I did not feel it advanced the story. I love the characters of Helen, Thorne and Hendricks and have become very comfortable with these characters, their banter, their humour, sarcasm and intelligence, so I was saddened by this departure.
The police believe they have their murderer in custody, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer. In Time of Death Mark Billingham has provided the reader with another well written, complex narrative that speaks to issues in the news today. The main plot is tense with realistic scenarios and main the characters are finely drawn and three dimensional who feel like people you know. The ending is satisfying as regards the original case of the missing girls which is cleared up. However, there is more going on that reaches beyond the last page of this novel that is not dealt with.
I was disappointed in Time of Death, but that is only compared to the very high standards Mark Billingham sets himself. I look forward to his next novel with renewed enthusiasm.