THE DEMANDS marks a bit of a departure for Mark Billingham’s steadfast Tom Thorne series. Billingham is anything but a formulaic writer, so some change from book to book is expected. However, his latest goes a couple of steps further to great end.
"THE DEMANDS marks a bit of a departure for Mark Billingham’s steadfast Tom Thorne series. Billingham is anything but a formulaic writer, so some change from book to book is expected. However, his latest goes a couple of steps further to great end."
The book begins with London police officer Helen Weeks (introduced in Billingham’s IN THE DARK) patronizing her local news agency and suddenly being taken hostage, along with a bank employee who had the misfortune to be in the establishment at the same time. The hostage-taker is Javed Akhtar, the owner-operator of the shop, a decent enough man who has waited on Weeks regularly and without incident until now. It develops that Amin, Akhtar’s son, who had been incarcerated, was subsequently found dead in the detention infirmary. Amin’s death was ruled a suicide, but the distraught father is insisting that his son would never do such a thing, and demands that Weeks have Tom Thorne --- the officer who arrested Amin originally --- investigate the death.
Thorne, who himself is a bit shell-shocked (though not overly so) by the termination of his latest romantic relationship, begins to retrace Amin’s final hours. The conclusion of death by suicide seems almost open and shut. But Thorne is troubled by a couple of seemingly minor elements in the case. A conversation with a friend of Amin’s who is also incarcerated reveals a secret that has a bearing not only on Thorne’s de facto investigation but also upon the case that caused Amin to be arrested and jailed in the first place. Weeks, though, must deal with an increasingly difficult situation inside the news agency, as Javed becomes more and more distraught.
Thorne soon comes to believe that Javed is correct in his assumption that his son was murdered, but must establish the how and, perhaps more importantly, the why of the tragic occurrence. As the hostage crisis stretches out, Thorne races against time to find the answers that Javed demands and to obtain at least a modicum of post-morbid justice for Amin. His quest will take him to truly unexpected places, even as Weeks’ situation grows more precarious, and pressure within the police department to resolve the situation by force rises to a fever pitch.
THE DEMANDS takes place over the relative short course of three extremely stressful days, with Thorne sharing the limelight to a greater extent than usual (in this case with Helen Weeks). This is an interesting development, considering that Thorne’s appearance in IN THE DARK was little more than a cameo. The book’s conclusion indicates that Weeks may well be making another significant appearance in Billingham’s next installment in the Thorne canon, though one never knows, given Thorne’s track record.
The timing of its publication is most welcome, given the near-simultaneous premiere of the film adaptation of Billingham’s SLEEPYHEAD and SCAREDY CAT on American television. These events should help him to receive the attention that his body of work deserves on this side of the ocean.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 27, 2012