The Bones Beneath: A Tom Thorne Novel
I love a good twist-up. THE BONES BENEATH is one of those. It is the 12th Tom Thorne mystery by Mark Billingham, and those of us who have been along for the ride from the very beginning will note a bit of a departure here from previous installments. There is no question who the murderer is and who the victim is (for the most part). Instead, the focus is on the “why,” or the motivation, if you will, for what propels the plot like a quiet, deadly rocket through a good portion of the book, moving readers just a bit closer to the edge of their seats with each passing page.
THE BONES BENEATH opens some six weeks after the conclusion of THE DYING HOURS. Thorne has been newly restored to his position of Detective Inspector (no more uniform for him) on the Murder Squad. His first assignment upon his return involves an old adversary in the form of Stuart Nicklin. It develops that Nicklin wants to reveal the burying place of one of his earliest victims --- a killing that took place when the vicious serial killer was little more than a wee deranged slip of a lad --- and he wants Thorne, the man who ultimately apprehended him at the end of a long and vicious killing spree, to join him. Nicklin has another request, which is almost as odd as asking Thorne along: he wants Jeffrey Batchelor, another inmate, to accompany them to the resting site.
"THE BONES BENEATH is a slow-boil book, one of Billingham’s best to date, and certainly one of his most suspenseful."
Nicklin says that he would like Batchelor there as a witness in case Thorne or one of the other law enforcement officers decides to harm him in some way, but it’s fairly obvious that there is more to his request than that. It’s not exactly a walk in the park to get to the murder site, either. The place where Nicklin alleges that the body is buried is full of corpses, a desolate island off the Welsh coast that is a favorite of bird watchers and historians but few others. The island is known in legend for being the final resting place of some 20,000 saints; in fact, it was also the site of an experimental home for wayward boys, of which Nicklin was one of the worst.
Thorne is certain to the depths of his bones that Nicklin is up to something other than trying to bring closure to the victim’s mother, but he has nothing other than an uneasy feeling tickling the back of his neck to back it up. Nicklin, of course, never misses an opportunity to needle Thorne, who just wants the excursion to be completed, hopefully successfully. The suspense builds until Nicklin plays his cards in a dramatic fashion, leaving Thorne in the position of having to make a terrible choice, one that he will almost certainly regret making no matter what he decides.
THE BONES BENEATH is a slow-boil book, one of Billingham’s best to date, and certainly one of his most suspenseful. There is an added bonus to boot. Those familiar with Thorne know of his love for American country and western music; here, Billingham graciously provides his readers with the music list that Thorne compiles for the drive to Wales. It is as choice as can be; anyone remotely interested in country music but not knowing where to start or finish can do both with this list, which is featured at the end of the book and is worth picking up for that reason alone. Buy the book, purchase the music, and then read while listening: I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 6, 2014