Review

In the Dark

by Mark Billingham

There is always a leap of faith that takes place when an author
known for a particular series publishes an independent work
standing outside of the mythos he or she has created. The author is
treading on unfamiliar ground, taking a chance on new characters
and situations. The readership comes to the author’s new book
with some built-in expectations to overcome before they get down to
the business of reading, and hopefully enjoying, the new title.

So we come to Mark Billingham and IN THE DARK. Billingham is
known as a major talent in several artistic disciplines, chief
among them as the author of the Tom Thorne police procedural
novels. His latest is not entirely outside of Thorne’s world;
set in London, Thorne appears very briefly, though he hardly plays
a pivotal role. The book takes Billingham and the reader deeper
into the heart of darkness than he has previously --- and, not
incidentally, to heretofore unrevealed depths of his talent.

Set in London, IN THE DARK proceeds smartly along three tracks.
The first is Helen Weeks, a very pregnant police officer on
maternity leave who is within days of giving birth to her baby. The
second is Theo, known on the street as “T,” a basically
well-intentioned teenager who is caught between trying to build a
decent life with his girlfriend and child, and his membership in a
drug-dealing gang in his estate (project) building. The third is
Frank Linnell, an enigmatic gangster who, as events eventually
reveal, is not quite all there. The collective nexus of these three
individuals is the tragic death of Paul Hopwood. Hopwood is a
British police officer who is the live-in boyfriend of Weeks, the
unlikely pal of Linnell, and the victim of a horrific car accident
that has its origins in the machinations of a gang initiation
involving T.

Hopwood’s death sets off two chain reactions that move in
opposite directions. The police, having a vested interest in the
death of one of their own, begin an investigation that is hamstrung
procedurally by legal issues. Weeks takes advantage of her nebulous
status --- a police officer, but officially on leave --- to pursue
her own investigation that is unofficial but effective. Weeks had
suspected, prior to Hopwood’s death, that he was involved in
activities on a personal or professional basis --- or both --- that
he was hiding from her and his superiors.

Meanwhile, Linnell pursues an investigation that is
frighteningly and brutally single-minded. He is motivated by
nothing more basic than revenge and pursues it with a swift,
terrible and effective bend. T gradually becomes aware that someone
--- namely Linnell --- is systematically hunting down the gang
members involved in the chain reaction that led to Hopwood’s
untimely end. It is Weeks’s own dogged pursuit that
challenges the conclusions that everyone, including herself, T and
Linnell had reached, with results that are tragic on several
levels.

IN THE DARK is a step --- actually, several steps --- beyond
Billingham’s previous work, addictive as those worthy volumes
are and remain. If you have read Billingham before, IN THE DARK
will solidify your loyalty. If this is your first taste, you will
next turn to the feast of his Thorne novels, which should be
savored slowly and re-read.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

In the Dark
by Mark Billingham

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061432733
  • ISBN-13: 9780061432736