|Mark Billingham: Lazy Bones|
William Morrow (Hardcover), ISBN 0-06-056085-1
I read and found myself much impressed by Mark Billingham's previous Inspector Tom Thorne thriller, Scaredy Cat, although I had reservations about the clumsiness of the writing. This time around, that clumsiness disappeared, as if by magic -- or by editor -- leaving a marvelously slick piece of police-procedural noir. My only reservations concern the plotting.
Thorne and his crew at Scotland Yard's Serious Crimes Group perhaps shouldn't have been called in for something so banal as the torture murder of recently released rapist Douglas Remfry. But looking at it another way, their involvement could be seen as a lucky break, because the killing proves to be the first in a series.
Someone seeks to cultivate pen-friendships with convicted rapists and then, on their release, lures them with pornographic photos and promises of S&M sex to their painful dooms. As with other serial cases, the likelihood is that the source of the murderer's rage lies somewhere in history, but at first the SCG doesn't know where in history to look. A search of past murders reveals a couple of unsolved cases that appear tantalizingly similar. But the correspondence between the cases don't seem quite strong enough. Besides, the cases lack any obvious connection.
Eventually, one of the employees of the recently formed Area Major Review Unit -- which brings elderly police officers out of retirement to analyze cold cases -- starts probing the long-ago murder of an accused but acquitted rapist. This leads the researcher to a ghastly 25-year-old murder-suicide that may hold the key to Tom Thorne's latest problem.
Meanwhile the body count continues to rise, and through it all the flinty hearted Tom Thorne tries to cope with the blossoming of the first romance to come his way in years
The mortar in Billingham's thrillers is the joyous facility with which he creates vivid, interesting, complex secondary characters. The second-string stars in Lazy Bones include Phil Hendricks (from previous cases), the gay, punk forensics expert who just happens to be the seemingly ultra-conservative copper Tom Thorne's best friend; and especially Carol Chamberlain, the police retiree who looks like someone's not-necessarily-very-nice, overweight granny but who brings unbridled enthusiasm and a mind like a laser to her duties at the Area Major Review Unit. Even failing such a gripping main plot, readers would keep reading compulsively to follow the fates of these and the other characters.
In the case of Lazy Bones, this serves Billingham well, because the plotting makes it a bit thunderingly obvious, from about two-thirds of the way in, who's committing the murders. Since Thorne possesses almost the full gamut of the same evidence in front of him as we do, I find it somewhat implausible that his masterful detective mind doesn't at least share the same suspicions. This means that one finishes Lazy Bones with a sense of slight disappointment that the denouement's anticipated reversal of expectations never happened.
If you've not encountered Tom Thorne yet, you most certainly should. He proves a worthy counterpart to Ian Rankin's Edinburgh cop, John Rebus -- high praise, indeed.
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