My first crime novel of the year and an author and his detective that were new to me. I picked up Mark Billingham’s Death Message at the airport in November when I was after a bit of crime fiction just in case I ran out of reading before I returned home. As it happened, I didn’t run out of reading and so it has sat on my bookshelf for a couple of months.
Death Message is a straightforward police procedural and a well-constructed and even, at times, a rather well-written one. But it is also something of an old-fashioned (or perhaps contemporary) pot-boiler and is rather clicheed at times. DI Tom Thorne is an instantly recognisable type – a dysfunctional, emotionally illiterate, maverick, work-obsessed copper with a self-destructive streak and a trail of failed relationships. Of course Dexter’s Morse, Rankin’s Rebus and Mankell’s Wallander (amongst others) got there before him, so Thorne is rather derivative. I also did not find him as interesting or sympathetic as some of the detectives from which he is derived, although there may have ben a reason for this. Death Message is the seventh Thorne novel and I am usually quite organised, even anal, about these things, preferring to read the novels in order, so as to to get a sense of the bigger narrative. Having leaped in at No. 7 may have meant that I have missed out on some of the background to the characters.
But this all sounds like a rather negative review, but that’s not the impression I want to give here – it’s perhaps rather a critique of my own reading habits. If you are prepared to ride with the clichees and enjoy them for what they are, then this is good, fast-paced stuff. Thorne is certainly a character I could get to like and Billingham is a writer who has firm control of the genre, even if he does not quite measure up to Rankin’s mastery. I shall certainly read more of this series – so that’s a recommendation, for sure.