What the blurb says: “The Missing: Two schoolgirls are abducted in the small, dying Warwickshire town of Polesford, driving a knife into the heart of the community where police officer Helen Weeks grew up, and from which she long escaped. But this is a place full of secrets, where dangerous truths lie buried.
The Accused: When it’s splashed all over the press that family man Stephen Bates has been arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege with two teenage children and convinced of her husband’s innocence.
The Dead: As residents and media bay for Bates’ blood, a decomposing body is found. The police believe that they have their murderer in custody, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer.”
So, declarations first, I have to confess that I’m a huge fan of Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series and so I couldn’t wait to read the latest book TIME OF DEATH (published today – 23rd April).
This story takes Tom out of his usual city surroundings on a visit to the countryside for a romantic break with his partner Helen Weeks. But it doesn’t stay a relaxing holiday for long. When Helen recognises the wife of the man accused of the abduction of two schoolgirls from a small Warwickshire community, their holiday is cut short as they head to Polesford for Helen to support her old school friend who is in the grips of a suffocating media presence, and whose community, and social media, is vilifying her and her family.
With Helen preoccupied with her friend and acting increasing distant, Tom does what fans of the series might anticipate – he starts to look at the facts of the case, at first piquing the interest of the local police, and then (as he spots the holes in their evidence and theories) becoming an irritant. Once he realises the investigation isn’t as thorough, and the case as well proven, as the locals are saying, he’d determined to find out the truth behind the abductions and get to the remaining missing girl before it’s too late.
Taking Thorne out of his London comfort zone is genius move. He hates the countryside, especially the thought of antiquing and walking, but through the course of his (unofficial) investigation he has to embrace everything the area has to throw at him – floods, pigs, a lot of characterful locals, and the kind of claustrophobic environment where everyone knows each other’s business.
Being the outsider, and not officially involved in the case, he’s able to follow his instincts unchecked, and starts to find he’s actually rather enjoying his holiday. He even manages to entice his friend, and talented Pathologist, Phil Hendricks, out from the city to help him. They still haven’t really spoken about what happened on Bardsey Island (in the previous book The Bones Beneath) and the personal cost to Phil (and Thorne) that resulted, but their friendship is a strong as ever and their banter is, as always, a joy to read.
TIME OF DEATH is filled with mystery and intrigue from the abduction case Tom is investigating, it also layers on a growing sense of unease that coming back to the place she grew up has unearthed some deeply buried secrets that Helen has kept well hidden. The consequences of both will have ramifications for both Helen and Tom.
Masterfully written, this is another fabulous instalment in what I think is the best police procedural series around today.
It’s a book that from the first chapter I just couldn’t put down. A real must read for crime fiction fans and one of my favourite books of 2015 so far.
[with thanks to Little, Brown for my copy of Time of Death]