Alan Hughes's Reviews > The Burning Girl
by Mark Billingham
bookshelves: own, crime, fiction
A contract killer is carving his way through North London's criminal underworld, leaving a bloody X on his victims' backs and taking Billy Ryan's gang down one thug at a time. Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and his team know there's a turf war going on, but who's attempting to take over Ryan's racket isn't quite clear. When DCI Carol Chamberlin comes out of retirement to work on the cold case squad and asks Thorne for help solving an old murder, the past and present catch up in what looks like a continuation of a twenty-year-old gang war. And when someone carves an X in Thorne's door, a fuse is lit that stretches from the eponymous burning girl of the title--Chamberlin's old case--to the gang war that's lighting up the London sky. It's a clunky plot that relies on telling more than showing, slowing down the pace and makeing it difficult for the reader to care about any of the principals involved--either the victims or those who seek justic for them. Billingham has written better thrillers (_Lazybones_, Scaredy Cat), but this one doesn't live up to their promises. --Jane AdamsFrom Publishers Weekly
The engrossing fourth novel by British TV writer Billingham to feature London police detective Tom Thorne (after 2004's Lazybones) has a solid, traditional structure and plot, and a whiff of noir sensibility. Thorne is the solid reliable cop whom witnesses trust and colleagues appreciate. Of late, he's taken in his temporarily homeless pal, pathologist Phil Hendricks, and Billingham has fun with this odd couple (Phil is gay, messy and heavily pierced; Thorne is a Lucinda Williams–loving neatnik). Thorne's also willing to help out another friend—prickly, middle-aged ex-DCI Carol Chamberlain—who's uncovered new evidence about a case from the 1980s in which a schoolgirl was set on fire. Moral complexity clouds the picture: the man wrongly imprisoned for that heinous act is a career criminal; empathetic Thorne drifts into an affair with a key witness. A second case, equally complex, involves the murder of a Turkish video store owner, which proves to be just one of an alarming series of killings whose pattern Thorne must determine. Billingham delivers an edgy, ambitious novel with an excellent cast—just as BBC America's Mystery Monday offers a character-driven alternative to the current spate of forensics-heavy American TV police procedurals—and Morrow's betting on this one, with its hardcover-at-a-paperback-price, to break him out big.
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