Review

Lazybones

by Mark Billingham



Timing is everything. Comedians live and die by timing. There is a
musician named Sam Butera, a master sax player and singer whose
career began in the 1940s and continues to this day, who
intersperses his musical numbers with jokes. His are not new jokes;
I first heard most of them in grade school, when Eisenhower was the
president and Pius was the Pope. Yet, when he tells them, I am more
often than not howling, laughing so hard that it brings tears to my
eyes. It's all in the timing.


Mark Billingham is a comedian. His primary work in comedy has been
in the United Kingdom, where he does standup club appearances as
well as radio and television writing. He is also, however, a writer
of British police procedural fiction, and an amazingly good one. In
the course of three books --- SLEEPYHEAD, SCAREDY CAT, and now
LAZYBONES --- he has become an A-list writer of police procedural
fiction. And while Billingham's comedic work is bitingly funny, his
literary work is dark and grim, all the more noticeably so when he
slips a bit of black humor into it.


Billingham's Detective Inspector Tom Thorne of the London Police
Serious Crime Group is an improbable protagonist, a middle-aged
divorcee with a fondness for American country western music ---
Cash, Haggard and Jones --- and, as he will himself admit, a
somewhat haphazard approach to relationships. Thorne has a certain
charm, almost in spite of himself. He has a couple of million
cousins in spirit on this side of the Atlantic, and you wouldn't
think of any of them as policemen. He has a love-hate relationship
with his work, repulsed by the examples of man's inhumanity to man
that he encounters on a daily basis yet totally engrossed in the
pursuit of the perpetrators. If you've ever watched the television
show "The Shield," you'll be reminded to some extent of Dutch,
without the irritating personality traits.


As interesting as Thorne is, however, where Billingham really
shines is in the creation of his villains. LAZYBONES is no
exception, and even ratchets things up a notch or three from the
villains in SCAREDY CAT and SLEEPYHEAD. And there's a bit of a
conundrum in LAZYBONES. Someone is murdering convicted rapists. And
we're not talking one-time offenders, or guys who had a difficult
time understanding that "no" really, really means "no." We're
talking about individuals who are serial offenders, people who
we're all better off without, who have blown their chance to live
peacefully among us and have separated themselves from the flock.
Thorne is conflicted. He is not especially upset that the
recidivism rate is being lowered but nonetheless doggedly pursues
the culprit, who is, after all, committing murder. Whoever it is,
they are doing a topnotch job of it, staging the victims just so
and giving them a taste of their own medicine, if you will.


Thorne, however, keeps hitting dead ends. How is the murderer
locating the rapists? How is he entering and leaving the scenes of
the crimes without anyone noticing? And what is his motive? Thorne
keeps hitting dead ends in his personal life, as well. He meets Eve
Bloom, an attractive woman who is tangentially connected to the
first murder and who seems to be drawn to him, yet Thorne can never
quite connect with her. Thorne's father, meanwhile, continues to
slowly sink deeper into the tarpit of Alzheimer's disease.


Billingham's primary focus, however, is less on Thorne's personal
life (and the lives of his fellow Serious Crime officers) and more
on the investigation. And his timing and pacing are perfect as
always. His narrative is never rushed, but doesn't plod along
either. Most importantly, Billingham's conclusion is devoid of any
of the "okay, time to wrap this up" atmosphere that occasionally
creeps into a novel of this type. Billingham instead ratchets the
suspense level incrementally upward, completing the denouement with
a bit of dry humor that is ultimately perfect, in light of what has
(almost) happened.


LAZYBONES is a topnotch work by an intriguing and talented writer.
What more could one ask for, other than his next work? Highly
recommended.


   














Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 5, 2011

Lazybones
by Mark Billingham

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Avon
  • ISBN-10: 006056086X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060560867