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.
Billingham 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.