Fiction Reviews

Book review: Death Message by Mark Billingham

Death Message
Mark Billingham, Little Brown
The latest outing for overworked London DI Tom Thorne kicks off when our hero receives a grisly, blurred photograph on his cellphone. It shows what looks very much to the very likeable Inspector (who’s become something of an expert in such matters) like a corpse. But there’s no hint as to who the victim is – never mind any clue as to the identity of his assumed killer. And when another picture of a different dead man arrives, it’s getting serious and Thorne shows just why bookshops all over the world look forward to the latest title by Mark Billingham.

It’s easy to pretend that writing winsome detectives into gripping police procedurals is a simple matter. It’s obviously not. Among those who set the gold-standard are Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, and Peter Robinson. It’s difficult because so many others have tried and failed.

Mark Billingham (largely) avoids the Cliches

On the one hand, it must be tempting to follow a tried-and-trusted formula. The obvious Holmes-Watson scenario of clever detective aided by bumbling assistant must be avoided at all costs. Or, at least swerved. That’s why so many second characters these days seem to be clever female ‘Watsons’. At the very least they are younger and more ‘clued-in’ than their fuddy-duddy bosses. Mark Billingham has managed to avoid most of the cliches. Presumably, that’ why his novels are always worth reading.

All in all, ‘Death Message’ is another cracking thriller from the former stand-up comedian and TV writer. Billingham has proved himself one of the unexpected long-stayers of British crime fiction. Recent Thorne outings may not have been quite up to the early standard set by ‘Sleepy Head’ ‘Lazy Bones’ and ‘Burning Girl’ but ‘Death Message’ is a definite return to form. Recommended. Jim Driver

death message by Mark Billingham

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