I will confess to having a bromance of sorts with the Tom Thorne series. Mark Billingham’s troubled detective inspector is one of those riveting characters who is almost likable in spite of himself, somewhat dour in personality but possessed of a dry sense of humor, seemingly unable to close the deal on a long-term relationship, an aficionado of American country music. Yes, complex would be the word, just like a great number of us. It is these personality elements of Thorne’s, combined with Billingham’s sharp plotting and extremely interesting murderers, that keep readers on both sides of the Atlantic coming back again and again.
THE DYING HOURS, Billingham’s latest offering, finds Thorne removed from his special unit (thanks to his sins) and relegated to patrol duty, with uniform and everything. While retaining the title of “inspector,” Thorne is anything but, as he has been effectively demoted to being nothing more than an observer and note taker. When he is called to the scene of an elderly couple who have apparently committed suicide by overdosing on insulin, he can’t help but be suspicious. Thorne believes that something is wrong, but can’t quite put his finger on exactly what it is. The detective in charge of the matter is not really interested in Thorne’s input; to any reasonable person, the scene is tragic, but not something suitable for investigation.
"THE DYING HOURS may be my favorite Thorne book to date. Billingham lets the reader and Thorne get separate pieces of the same puzzle independently and work toward each other, even as the killer gladly surrenders to a thirst for revenge that will never be quenched."
One cannot really blame Thorne, given that he is unable to articulate with specificity what precisely has gotten his hackles up. It is only when he revisits the scene with one of his old comrades --- shortly after being called to the scene of an apparent suicide carried out by another senior citizen --- that he realizes what is bothering him. It’s not an outlier of Sherlockian proportions, by any means, but it has to do with sweating, and noticing, the small stuff. It develops that the small item that has been nagging at Thorne is part of a major clue. When he begins investigating similar incidents, consisting of the apparent suicides of individuals of a certain age, he finds a common thread that connects almost all of them. There is a cold-blooded and very smart, calculating killer operating who is out for revenge, and he is at once both as likely and unlikely a murderer as one might expect to encounter.
The problem is that Thorne is doing all of this investigating independently and unofficially, without authorization. Despite being told specifically to stop helping, he cannot cease doing what he was seemingly born to do. When he asks his former colleagues to assist him, how can they refuse, even at the cost of their own jobs? As always, Thorne rushes in where angels, or even demons, fear to tread, and he has more to lose than his job. He is up against an extremely dangerous adversary who has no problem adding him to his list of victims when he gets too close to the truth.
THE DYING HOURS may be my favorite Thorne book to date. Billingham lets the reader and Thorne get separate pieces of the same puzzle independently and work toward each other, even as the killer gladly surrenders to a thirst for revenge that will never be quenched. And the ending? Let’s just say that there is good news and bad news for newcomers and longtime fans alike. Strongly recommended for both.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 9, 2013