Review: The Dying Hours

The Dying Hours
The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one I bought on spec, as I don’t usually read this sort of crime novel. But I’m glad I did. Though it does now mean shelling out on a whole new series of books that two months ago were unknown to me. Oh well, la-di-da.

Sorry to go mentioning it again, but…There are several parallels with Mark Timlin’s (utterly fantastic) Nick Sharman character already. Apart from the immediately obvious. The same work ethic, the same sense of right and wrong, even when they’re wrong and, Tulse Hill, isn’t that where Sharman lived?

Anyway, on with the story…and a nicely woven one it is at that.

(Remember, this is one of the latest in what looks like a long-running/to be continued, series of novels) Our main man, Tom Thorne, has been demoted from Murder Squad to the uniformed branch. Nothing inherently wrong in being in uniform, no matter how many books you read, or tv shows you see, where being demoted to uniform, is akin to being painted yellow and nailed to the town walls. Though not quite so pleasant. I mean, someone’s got to be in uniform, whether they’re on the way up, or down. They’re the people we the public are most likely to meet, so their job is of equal or greater value as this who swan about in their own overcoats and ancient Jaguars…But, for an ex-Murder Squad detective, who has done something really, really wrong (there are hints here, but it’s not necessary to know what, to get the most out of this one, just to know that he has done something wrong, his ex-colleagues are glad to have got shot, and he doesn’t like being back, powerless, as he sees it, pounding the streets). Despite his demotion, his ’nose,’ something that all detectives worth their salt/prolonged series of tv shows, films and/or novels, have, is still working fine. So, when he visits the scene of a suicide, and his ’nose’ starts telling him all isn’t as neat and tidy a suicide, ready for boxing up and tiring with a red ribbon marked ‘suicide,’ as his ex-colleges in the MS would like it to be, he starts getting feelings and into trouble. You see, he can’t quite remind himself enough times, that he isn’t getting paid to get those feelings again any more. He is paid to do, not think.

He won’t let it go. He has a feeling something isn’t right, but he can’t quite put his finger on it, to put it into words. All the suicides are elderly people, and don’t seem to have much else in common, but to Thorne, something isn’t right. He sees a pattern. Or does he? Isn’t he really making something of nothing, just to cling on to imagining he’s back on the Murder Squad. That he’s still important. Not an errand boy?

He could be like all the others and not give a fuck. That’s what they want him to do. But like it or not – and you get the feeling he is on the edge, of not liking it, given the hassle/downward career spiral/grief it has caused him, and of not giving a fuck. He has to go about investigating in his own time, beg, borrowing and stealing time and help from the few people who are willing to help him. But if he’s found out investigating and they’re found out helping him, there’ll be hell to pay.

As the suspicions grow into links and into possibilities into patterns and into evidence, Thorne identifies the killer, but seems powerless to stop him, unless he makes a mistake. Who the ‘he’ is, you’ll have to read it and see. The slow unveiling of the evidence, the way it leads deeper into the case, is very well done. The writing has just the right amount of world-weary ‘I really should know better by now’ pathos, a ‘lived-in’ quality to the character of Thorne and his attempts to come to terms with his new (lower) station in life (he can’t, quite).

There is a passage, the end of a chapter actually, fairly early on, when his suspicions are in desperate need of confirmation, where his deductions lead to clues and he comes across something that confirms he is right to be suspicious, that is really quite superb. Chilling even, in its simplicity, stark helplessness. That’s all I can say. At that point, I thought “now we’re gonna get going into something exceptional.” Whilst we didn’t fully realise the potential of that opening, the rest of the book is still an above average thriller, I’d say.

I did like this one. And that in itself, is quite encouraging. As it actually read a lot like a mid-series novel. Which it is. The idea of having the former plainclothes murder-squad detective go down a few notches – unwillingly – and back into uniform (he could leave but he seems to be Police through and through, almost against his better judgement) is a decent enough idea, and is done pretty well here, even though it has been done a hundred times before. It too felt a little underdeveloped, it could have been looked at more thoroughly. I didn’t get the feeling it was going to be developed any more in the next book, as it seemed as though he’ll be back in ‘the warm’ next time out. Plus, the end could have been done a bit better. I did feel a little let down by it. So it’s not a knock it off, but it does feel like a mid-series, mid-table novel.

And can I just postulate that the aside about a colleague known as ‘Two Cats’ surely taken from, or at least very similar to, Reginald Bosenquet’s (sp?) tale about having to report on a story about the cat stuck up a tree, rescued by the fire brigade?

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