BOOK REVIEW: Time of Death by Mark Billingham

Detective Tom Thorne once again finds himself outside of his normal North London stomping ground as his holiday in the Cotswolds with girlfriend, Helen Weeks, is hijacked by the disappearance of two teenagers from Helen’s home town. The couple are drawn in to the mystery when the husband of Helen’s school friend is accused of kidnapping and murder. While Helen lends support to her friend, Thorne’s interest is piqued by discrepancies in the investigation and he soon finds himself making his own inquiries, with shocking results.

Time of DeathBillingham luxuriates in building this story; he starts slowly and draws the reader in to an exhilarating climax. Along the way he drops the most delicate of hints, almost daring the reader to hazard a guess, but master of the genre that he is, he never gives away any more than he needs to. Only the keenest of readers will be able to discern the subtle clues from the red herrings and solve the crime before Thorne.

Billingham also artfully builds Helen’s backstory into this novel. Just as I was beginning to question her insistence on supporting a friend she hasn’t seen for decades, he drops a huge bombshell that explains everything and made me warm to Helen’s character in a way I hadn’t thought possible. Until now, she had been an irritation to me, detracting from Thorne’s adventures, but I find myself excited to read the next in the series in the hope that I will learn more about her.

This book gives us everything you would expect from a classic police procedural but unusually we witness it from the perspective of the accused’s family. It is extremely well plotted with the story turning on a gruesome but thrilling twist. I would not recommend this book as a starter to the Tom Thorne series as there are just too many references to past cases and not enough of an introduction to the characters, but to an avid fan, Time of Death is a return to form for Billingham and one of Thorne’s best adventures yet.

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond Suspicion by Catherine A. Winn

Shelby’s mum’s remarriage has been tough on the teenager. Her step-father is strict and a little over-bearing, so when he stops Shelby from going to a party she’s been looking forward to for weeks, she loses her temper. She doesn’t want to have to baby-sit her one-year-old brother, Josh, she wants to be a normal teenager and hang out with her friends. beyond-suspicion-by-catherine-a-winnKnowing it’s not his fault, Shelby takes Josh to the park, but when he disappears, the finger of suspicion is pointed at her. Shelby desperately pleads with the police to believe her when she says she saw two suspicious characters loitering in the neighbourhood, but they ignore her, and soon enough her friends and the media turn against her. The only thing Shelby can do is find her beloved brother herself, and so clear her name once and for all. As a teen title this is an engaging and high-paced thriller that serves as a good introduction to the genre. The story was captivating, but I had to suspend my disbelief in certain places for it to make sense. The characters, although charming were very two-dimensional, and it all concluded just a little too neatly for my liking. Shelby’s once mean and controlling step-father became a figure of support and friendship; her friends that so quickly abandoned her in her hour of need were just as quickly forgiven; the villains were caricatures that lacked any sense of real world terror, and met their comeuppance in just the way you might expect. We’ve seen some excellent young adult titles in recent years: Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series gave us two strong female leads that crossed from the teen shelves to captivate adult audiences, but unfortunately Shelby just isn’t in the same league as Catniss and Tris. She lacks the depth and the contradictions that keep you coming back to see how their characters might develop. This is much more Sweet Valley High than Hunger Games but it would serve as a good stepping stone into crime fiction for younger teens that might be toying with the genre. Definitely one to avoid for adult readers and avid crime fiction fans, though! The first in the Whispering Springs series; I have to say I won’t be in a rush to read the rest.

BOOK REVIEW: Snared by Ed James

screenshot-2015-01-12-12-31-13DS Vicky Dodds and her team are charged with investigating the disappearance of a dog breeder in Dundee. It soon becomes clear that they’re dealing with a sadistic abduction motivated by accusations of animal cruelty and that this case is linked to a number of others. As the crimes escalate Vicky’s own sympathies and personal life are called into question – could the man she’s falling for be involved somehow?

James has created a cast of memorable characters in this intelligent and fast-paced police procedural, not least his lead: DS Vicky Dodds is a single mother with a fear of commitment, an unparalleled work ethic and an overbearing, but ultimately doting family. The negotiation between her home- and work-life really made me empathise with Vicky and by the end of the novel I found myself rooting for her.

The plot is tight with a number of twists and red herrings which made for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Short chapters maintained a fast tempo and gave a genuine sense of urgency as the team hunted down the perpetrators. This was definitely a smart, well-researched novel and I would be keen to read more in the series. Despite having my suspicions about one character from the start (which turned out to be justified) I was kept guessing right up until the last page. Highly recommended for fans of tartan noir.