NY: HarperCollins, 2009.
According to Billingham, a “death message” is the news the cops deliver to the family when one of their number has died suddenly and (usually) violently. In the case of Marcus Brooks, who is only a couple of weeks from being released after six years in prison, the message is to inform him of the deaths of his girlfriend and young son at the hands of a hit-and-run driver. And it was no accident. Looking forward to seeing his loved ones again was pretty much the only thing that was keeping Marcus sane, and now that he has no life to look forward to, the obvious alternative is revenge.
All this is unusual in this author’s series of very good novels about the irascible DI Tom Thorne, homicide specialist in the Metropolitan Police. He often lets the reader peer over the killer’s shoulder, get into his mind, work out what motivates him — but never before has he given away the killer’s identity. But it works because Marcus — who certainly is the murderer — isn’t really the Bad Guy. That role belongs possibly to a couple of bent cops whom Thorne would very much like to identify and bring in. Or maybe there are even further layers. And much of the story is concerned not with the murders so much as with the way Thorne handles them, because even though he often bends the rules and ignores procedures in order to solve a case, he goes far beyond that this time. Because he has his own father’s death to avenge. And, while he’s about it, there’s a new woman in his life, too — a kidnap specialist from another unit of the Met. Will this relationship be any more successful than the previous ones he’s edged into? (Stay tuned.) I wasn’t sure this one was going to work, what with the author giving away so much so early in the story, but it all comes together pretty well. The only questionable narrative strategy is bringing in events and characters from The Burning Girl, four novels ago, so you really want to be sure you’ve read that book first. Otherwise, you’re apt to feel a bit sandbagged.