Scaredy Cat

by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham is a standup comic. I am unfamiliar with his stage
work, and perhaps it's just as well, as I would have come to
SCAREDY CAT (and, for that matter, his debut novel SLEEPYHEAD) with
some preconceived notion that it would be at least quasi-comedic,
that Billingham would possibly be a British Donald Westlake. For
all I know, Billingham may be the funniest man on the planet, but
you couldn't prove it with SCAREDY CAT.

SCAREDY CAT is an almost unrelievedly grim police procedural,
though the setting is not a fictionalized New York City but rather
modern-day London. The novel focuses on a series of murders being
investigated by Team 3 of the unimaginatively named Serious Crime
Group (West) of the Met, London Metropolitan Police. Detective
Inspector Tom Thorne, introduced in SLEEPYHEAD, is back, and
Billingham continues his slow and methodical sketching of Thorne's
personality. Thorne may well be one of the most quietly complex
characters in modern detective fiction; just when the reader thinks
he or she has a handle on him, there is a twist or a turn, and
suddenly one's opinion, one's conception, needs revision. Thorne is
no genius, and he knows it. This is important; he is able to admit
mistakes and to turn, albeit grudgingly, on a dime to correct them,
even as he is weighed down by regret.

Ah, and the series of murders. Two women are murdered in London,
some distance apart, with enough similarities to convince the
police that they are, at least initially, the work of the same
person. The murders resemble a pair of killings that occurred
several months previously in which two other women were killed on
the same day, apparently at the same time. Thorne comes to the
conclusion that the two pairs of killings are linked, and that
there is not one killer, but two, working in tandem with each
other. He is horrified to further realize that, every time one body
is found, there will be another waiting to be discovered. And while
the methods of the murders may be the same, the killers themselves,
it seems, are very, very different.

As the reader follows Thorne and his team (a group of extremely
interesting individuals, to say the least) through their
investigation, Billingham describes the intricacies of the
investigators, the murderers and the survivors, the relatives of
the victims left behind in death's wake. And while the identity of
one of the murderers is revealed relatively early, the other is not
revealed to either Thorne or the reader until the very end. The
result is a novel with such skilled pacing that it is almost
excruciatingly painful to read it without finishing it in one
sitting. Yet it is simultaneously a novel of such simple craft,
such intelligence, that one wants to savor it slowly. The result is
an interesting dichotomy that few writers are able to

It is not necessary to read SLEEPYHEAD prior to reading SCAREDY
CAT, though a reader introduced to one will inevitably be drawn to
the other. Billingham, with only two novels, has become a writer
who will undoubtedly be added to many "must-read" lists. Oh, one
other thing about SCAREDY CAT: this book has perhaps the saddest
Epilogue I have ever read. Don't skip ahead --- you won't really
get it unless you read the whole book. And you'll definitely want
to read the whole book.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Scaredy Cat
by Mark Billingham

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Avon
  • ISBN-10: 0061032204
  • ISBN-13: 9780061032202