Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Bloodline" by Mark Billingham

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne latest case involves a series of murders in which the only connecting element is a sliver of X-ray found on the bodies. It is quickly discovered that the victims are all children of the victims of serial killer Raymond Garvey, who murdered seven women. He is now dead thanks to a brain tumour, so the suspicion of Thorne and his team is that the murderer must be someone who knew and was close to Raymond Garvey. While looking into the life of Garvey, the team must also try to protect those who are still targets, in particular Debbie Mitchell, the rough, abrasive mother of a mentally handicapped child.

"Bloodline" is almost a return to form for Billingham, after the truly dreadful "Death Message". The first third is tightly paced and enjoyable. Unfortunately, everything that happens is outlined very neatly on the back of the book. Once it's established that a diabolical killer wants to off the children of Raymond Garvey's victims - which happens fairly early - there isn't much else for the narrative to go. Thorne's team do what most detectives in this genre do these days - plod about interviewing folk, waiting for test results and in Thorne's case, find something else to be miserable about. This time, it's the fact that his partner Louise has had a miscarriage. How does he feel about this? How does this affect his relationship with Louise? Was he ready to be a father? Is he ready to try again? It just goes on and on like that before the narrative once again starts gaining speed before the climax. Unfortunately - once again - Billingham botches what could have been quite an exciting ending, with one character's actions coming out of left field and not making much sense. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER - why go to all the trouble of escaping from a killer if you're just planning on committing suicide anyway?

Billingham is a very on-and-off author. He can deliver absolute dreck like "The Burning Girl" and "Death Message", or top-notch thrillers like "Sleepyhead" and "Buried". "Bloodline" has a combination of his best and worst traits. The plot is more interesting and exciting than usual, but gets too sidetracked with the intricate miseries of its central character's life. If Billingham can resist the urge to go back to British gang-turf-war rubbish (which populated his worst novels), I imagine things can only go up from here.

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