The Burning Girl

by Mark Billingham

Quietly I have become addicted to Mark Billingham's novels. There
haven't been a slew of them --- THE BURNING GIRL, his latest, is
only number four --- but that makes it easy to reread the whole lot
during the intervening twelve months between books. Billingham has
won well-deserved accolades in the field of comedy, so the dark
nature of his brilliantly scribed accounts of London Police
Detective Tom Thorne comes as a bit of a surprise to those familiar
with his other career. Yet his humor shines through, contrasting
nicely with the horrors within.

Billingham is at his best in THE BURNING GIRL. The Serious Crime
Group, of which Thorne is a member, has been paired with SO7 (The
Serious and Organized Crime Group --- I think Billingham is having
a bit of fun with these names) to investigate a series of murders
in which an "X" is carved into the back of each victim. The
victims, one and all, have ties to a gangster named Billy Ryan, and
it appears that a major turf war had broken out within London's
underworld between Ryan and a gang of Turkish smugglers.

Thorne already is helping his friend Carol Chamberlain investigate
a decades-old case involving the immolation of a schoolgirl. That
case was apparently solved, with Gordon Rooker, a well-known
hitman, incarcerated for the deed. Rooker, however, is recanting
his confession and will supposedly reveal the real perpetrator ---
with all of it being tied to Ryan. The cases are slowly
intersecting when Thorne performs an act of misguided compassion,
which serves as a catalyst for a chain of events that begins with a
murder and a funeral (Billingham is at his understated, irreverent
best at the graveside) and continues to a quietly shocking

Billingham makes some minor demands. The narrative of THE BURNING
GIRL, like its predecessors, is peppered with colloquialisms and
slang terms that American readers may have some minor difficulty
decoding, though things ultimately come clear within the context.
And while his plots initially seem a bit tangled in spots,
Billingham is an excellent guide, gently leading his readers
through the more complex tangles and always providing a reason for
it all.

It is Billingham's Thorne, however, who really makes these books in
general, and THE BURNING GIRL in particular, worth reading and
rereading. Thorne is one of the more intriguing protagonists in
contemporary crime fiction; one gets the feeling that he is
teetering on the brink of a meltdown, only to save himself, time
and again, with his droll but hilarious humor and his first-rate
taste in music (anyone who loves Johnny Cash and hates Sting is on
the right track). It's a small wonder then that for those familiar
with the series, a Billingham novel is an annual event to be
anticipated and repeatedly savored. Highly recommended.


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 23, 2010

The Burning Girl
by Mark Billingham

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Avon
  • ISBN-10: 0060745274
  • ISBN-13: 9780060745271