“The Dying Hours” by Mark Billingham; Grove Atlantic ($25)
• • •
British author Mark Billingham’s talent for sculpting intensely dark police procedurals complements his skill at pinpointing believable contemporary nightmares.
At the helm is Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, a good cop, an insightful investigator and often a loose cannon, going off on his own hunches. That he often is right still doesn’t sit right with his supervisors. But Billingham uses Tom more as a mirror reflecting the changing times, the horrors that can seep into daily lives when least expected.
Billingham also is never afraid to shake up Tom’s personal life and career as he does in his 11th novel in this series.
In “The Dying Hours,” Tom has crossed the line once too often and he is put back in uniform—“the Queen’s Cloth”— and demoted to Inspector.
The uniform is not a good fit. His depression over being “slapped down” erupts at work and at home where he lives with Det. Sgt. Helen Weeks and her 18-month-old son. Tom no longer has the power he did when he headed a homicide squad. His former colleagues show him little respect, and his cases seem to be routine.
But Tom sees nothing usual about the apparent suicide of an elderly couple. He believes they were murdered, but no one will believe him even when he links the couple to other suicides of the elderly. His supervisors dismiss Tom’s theories, saying it is not uncommon for old people to end their lives, especially those who are ill and without families. But each of these people was healthy and had loved ones, even if some families lived far away. Tom gets reluctant help from former colleagues Det. Sgt. Dave Holland and Det. Insp. Yvonne Kitson and pathologist Phil Hendricks, but even they don’t believe him.
Tom’s new position gives Billingham a heady advantage to find new avenues to explore in this character. “The Dying Hours” forces Tom to work even more as a solo agent, to rely on his own ideas and to re-evaluate his own role as a cop. Tom is accustomed to closing cases, to being “a glory hunter,” and begins to wonder if that is the only reason why he is a cop. He also looks at his role as a person. The murdered people were each mourned by their families. Will his relationship with Helen last? Will anyone care if he dies?
The relentless pace of “The Dying Hours” doesn’t slow down until the last word, proving why Billingham continues to be a best-seller in Great Britain.