Sunday, 23 July 2017

Love Like Blood - Mark Billingham



Love Like Blood is by my calculation the fourteenth in Billingham's Tom Thorne series. What Billingham brought to the crime fiction table back in the early Noughties was contemporaneity.  His cops were good examples of the fictive type - conflicted, maverick, a little raucous - but the subject matter came straight from the headlines. That remains the case here, where Billingham takes on the culturally sensitive issue of honour killing. He adds a further twist which is horribly credible: few people in any community have the capacity to kill, extremely few could bring themselves to murder their own child - so what if someone offers to do it for them, for a price?

Brilliant.

The problem, though, is that after thirteen novels Billingham's characters have developed far too much back story which has to be acknowledged. It's a tricky balance for any series writer and Billingham doesn't quite pull it off. To be fair, he has given himself an extra problem in that Thorne is shacked up with Helen Weeks, his other series character, who is, I'm sorry to say, excruciatingly dull. Admittedly I am slightly biased in that I hate the dull-as-dishwater TV adaptation of In the Dark currently going out on BBC1, which even the great MyAnna Buring cannot save. To be fair to myself, I started Love Like Blood before the series started and it was only later that I realised the uninteresting woman in the novel was also the boring woman on TV. We also have the storyline of DI Nicola Tanner, whose partner has been murdered in their own home. It is Tanner who has the contract honour killing theory and she gets in contact with Thorne who is already investigating a possibly linked murder. This plot device works very well and is entirely credible, but again it provokes yet more back story and, ultimately, that proves to be the final straw - though I must say there is a staggering plot twist which brings all the storylines together at the end in a stroke of sheer brilliance.

Overall, then, Love Like Blood is good - very good in parts - but not great. There is an imbalance between exposition and action, and it tilts the wrong way, which is really unfortunate because Billingham is so good at action.

I expected brilliance from Billingham after something like twenty books in total, an assumption based, not unreasonably, on the promise of his first three, Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat and Lazybones, all of which I really admired.

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