is your one-word review of BURIED by Mark Billingham: Amazing.
Incapable of writing badly, Billingham ups his own ante with his
sixth novel featuring London Detective Inspector Tom Thorne.
Billingham’s trademark elements are all in place here and
kicking along on eight cylinders. First and foremost, there is a
mystery, puzzling and intriguing, with a clock ticking loudly in
the background. In the case of BURIED, the mystery is the
kidnapping of teenager Luke Mullen, done in plain sight and with
the apparent cooperation --- at least initially --- of the victim.
Actually, there is more than one mystery connected with the
abduction. Along with the “whodunit” is the issue of
the “whydunit,” given that the kidnapper(s) --- there
may be more than one --- has/have not been heard from. There are
more than enough suspects, given that young Luke’s father is
a retired Detective Chief Superintendent and of course had no
problem acquiring enemies among the criminal element during the
daily course of his duties.
Thorne is assigned to a team assisting the kidnap unit, and it is
here that Billingham’s additional story elements come into
play. His stories are as much about how the police bureaucracy
actually impedes its officers with respect to solving a crime as
they are about the crime itself. In BURIED, the elder Mullen
happens to be friends with Thorne’s superior, which not only
results in but also encourages meddling from any number of sources.
Thorne’s ongoing reactions to this state of affairs ---
sometimes bemused, other times not so much --- are worth the price
of admission alone. The inclusion of the kidnap unit also gives
Billingham the opportunity to introduce a couple of new and
interesting characters to play off of Thorne, so that the dialogue
--- an area where the author excels --- is at its absolute
It is the mystery in BURIED, however, that makes it a page-turning,
read-in-one-sitting joy. The reader knows early on that the
kidnapper(s) is/are deadly serious here. But about a third of the
way through, Billingham suddenly takes his plot off-road into
unfamiliar terrain; everything you thought you knew about the
kidnapping is wrong. In fact, this is true about more than the
kidnapping. A cold case ties in, but for all the wrong reasons,
history rears its head. Mullen the Elder isn’t telling
everything he knows, and not just for the reasons you might think
of on your own.
More than a mystery, BURIED is a classic procedural novel from
an author who should be considered one of our finest.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 23, 2010