Maddy's Reviews > The Burning Girl

The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham
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's review
Apr 26, 10

bookshelves: 2005-reads
Read in August, 2005


What is the link among the various dead bodies with an "X" carved in their backs that are showing up around London? The victims all have ties to an organized crime boss named Billy Ryan, and the killings appear to be the result of Ryan moving into territory currently controlled by Turkish gangs. The Serious Crime Group pairs with SO7, Serious and Organized Crime Group, to nip the turf wars in the bud. As a member of SOG, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and his team are paired with a team run by his most hated colleague, DCI Nick Tugham. To say that they don't see things the same way is putting it mildly. They are often at odds and only occasionally manage to work together reasonably well.

At the same time, Thorne has been contacted by Carol Chamberlain, who is a retired DCI. Chamberlain was the lead officer in the case of the "burning girl" where a sleaze by the name of Gordon Rooker sprayed schoolgirl Jessica Clarke with lighter fluid and set her afire. Clarke was horribly mutilated; as it turns out, she suffered in vain as she was not the actual intended victim. Rooker gets in touch with Chamberlain and tells her that he confessed to the crime only to get away from Billy Ryan, who he feared more than any prison term. And now he's ready to spill his guts and put Ryan away for good. Obviously, Thorne is anxious to assist in anything that will get Ryan out of the picture.

At the same time, the Turkish mob is becoming more active and tensions are high all around. As events unfold, the assumptions made about Ryan, Rooker and others are turned on their ear.

Billingham has some wonderful touches in the book that humanize the characters in a way rather unexpected in a procedural. Carol Chamberlain is haunted by the burning girl case and constantly battles with herself about the decisions she made at the time. She's a great character, in her 50s, and with a life that is missing meaning for her. One touch of pathos is the inclusion of Clarke's diary entries after the torching; they are wonderfully rendered, showing a teenaged girl who has amazing courage and grace and humor.

THE BURNING GIRL is the fourth book in the Tom Thorne series. Although Billingham does an excellent job with the procedural aspects of the book and skillfully unfurls a complex plot, he really shines when it comes to creating people that matter to us, whether in a good or bad way. At the top of the list is Thorne himself, a man who struggles and changes over the course of the books. The book satisfies on all counts, and an excellent resolution was just icing on the cake.

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