If you’re expecting FROM THE DEAD to be the sequel to 2013’s THE DYING HOURS, please be advised that it isn’t. Originally published in 2010 in the UK, FROM THE DEAD is only now officially seeing the light of day in the US. We’ll find out what happens with Tom Thorne in June 2014 when THE BONES BENEATH is published. In the meantime, this ninth installment of the series chronicles the approach of yet another set of professional and personal crossroads in Thorne’s life.
The majority of the book concerns a puzzling case with ties to Thorne’s past and present. Thorne, who is still a detective inspector with London’s Metro Police, is contacted by Anna Carpenter, a rookie private investigator. Carpenter, who is in the employ of an extremely dodgy agency (think Saul Goodman’s law offices, without the charm, ethics and professional skills), has secretly taken on a client of her own, Donna Langford, who is no stranger to Thorne. Approximately 10 years before, Donna was tried and convicted of the murder-for-hire of Alan, her gangster husband. Thorne was the investigating officer in charge of the case from the beginning, when the body’s charred remains were discovered in a burned-out car, to the point that Donna was frog-marched out of court and into jail, based on her own admission.
"Taken as a whole, this better-late-than-never publication of FROM THE DEAD not only acts as a historical document in all things Thorne, but also shortens the wait for the next current installment for those legions of Billingham fans, myself included, who wish to see what Thorne’s good and bad news will be."
In present days, the newly released Donna has started receiving anonymously sent, date-stamped photos of her supposedly late ex-husband, seeming to indicate that he is alive and doing very well. Thorne is interested, although somewhat reluctantly at first. But he can’t help himself; if Alan Langford is still among us, then whose body was burning in the car? Thorne begins investigating, with the fresh-faced, over-eager Carpenter in tow, notwithstanding his uneasy acquiescence, due in no small part to the feelings of attraction for the young woman taking root inside of him. Such emotions do not help Thorne’s relationship with his live-in significant other, Louise, other than to sink them further into an ennui that neither can explain.
Meanwhile, a murder trial with a missing teenage girl as the victim unexpectedly goes sideways, and the newly freed defendant, who is almost certainly guilty as sin, begins to rachet up the pressure on the police --- and thus Thorne --- with the help of the mainstream media. Thorne utilizes some unusual sources to solve one, while the solution to the other literally drops into his lap. Well, not exactly, but close. The results provide a surprisingly satisfactory ending for Thorne and the Metro.
While neither of the cases presented here are resolved in ways that will surprise long-time mystery readers, there is still much to love in this fine, well-plotted work. Thorne’s still-surprising fondness for American country music shouldn’t be surprising at all, but Billingham somehow keeps it fresh in each installment of the series, particularly when Thorne uses whatever opportunity that presents itself to hunt down a new (to him) release. What is especially interesting is Thorne’s diversion to Spain in an attempt to wrap up the primary case. Thorne is a fish out of water, even when totally immersed in the very large pond of his very own London, but his visit to a Spanish resort town finds him yearning for a return journey as quickly as possible. Billingham’s dark humor, often shot through with irony, is in full play here, particularly during Thorne’s chance encounters with one of his Liverpudlian counterparts, experiences that alone are worth the price of admission.
Taken as a whole, this better-late-than-never publication of FROM THE DEAD not only acts as a historical document in all things Thorne, but also shortens the wait for the next current installment for those legions of Billingham fans, myself included, who wish to see what Thorne’s good and bad news will be.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 8, 2014