Joe Donovan is an ex-journalist who went off the rails after the disappearance of his son. He now works as part of a team called Albion, taking on private-eye style work. A lawyer contacts him wanting to prove the innocence of her client Michael Nell, who has been arrested for the slayings of two young women (one of whom was an ex-girlfriend), in what appears to be the work of a ritualistic serial killer. Basically, Joe needs to verify that Nell really does spend a lot of time with prostitutes, taking kinky photographs, and is not on the streets murdering college girls.
As it happens, one of Joe's other jobs is protecting Katya Tokic, a Bosnian prostitute. Her and her brother are the only ones who can testify against warlord Marco Kovacs, who committed all sorts of atrocities and is now in England. He figures she might be useful when chatting to the local hookers. However, this job brings him into the sights of Kovacs, who will stop at nothing in tracking Katya down. Not to mention a serial killer who is obsessed with the history of the region.
"Bone Machine" is pretty much a dead-on representation of what I hate about the crime genre. The serial killer aspect - the main focus in the plot summary on the back of the book - is merely an afterthought. This is yet another British crime thriller about gangsters. Yawn. I'm sick to bloody death of this subgenre. Mark Billingham, otherwise a strong writer, has trotted out some appalling thrillers when he focuses on gangsters. Same with Val McDermid. It is simply not interesting, gripping or suspenseful. I could care less about the inner workings of gangs. The serial killer angle is almost tangential to the proceedings. The two storyline strands have little to do with each other. On top of all this, "Bone Machine" is mostly soap opera. Joe Donovan has demons regarding his missing son. Team member Amar is a drug addict who films gay porn for rich clients. Team member Jamal is a former street kid who had to do horrible things to get by. But now he resents the presence of Katya in his "family" and her budding relationship with Joe. Yawn, yawn, yawn. At least two thirds of the book is taken up with these characters ruminations over the state of their lives.
Martyn Waites is a good writer. That much is clear. Strong prose, very descriptive, smart dialogue. But the book is an utter bore. Sometimes I think it's a crime to want a fast-paced, crackling thriller with bursts of action and plenty of plot twists. It feels like that sort of novel is becoming a rare breed. Admittedly, the pace in "Bone Machine" really picks up as it heads towards its conclusion, but it can't disguise the fact this is a gangster soap opera and NOT a crime thriller.