The clock is ticking for London detective Tom Thorne.
A news agent, Akhtar, is holding detective Helen Weeks of the Child Protection Unit hostage in his shop, demanding justice. A year ago, Akhtar's teenage son Amin died in a juvenile detention center in what was wrongly ruled a suicide. Unless Thorne finds who killed the boy, the grieving father will do something terrible. In what could be his commercial breakthrough novel in the States, British author Billingham serves up suspense on multiple fronts. In the shop, Weeks and a frightened male banker are handcuffed to a radiator and subjected to the normally pleasant news agent's dangerous mood swings. Immediately outside, a battery of armed, high-tech cops are chomping at the bit to do their thing, impatient with a female hostage negotiator's slow, by-the-books methods. And Thorne, re-investigating a case involving a clash between bullying white kids and Pakistani youths that resulted in Amin killing a white kid with the kid's kitchen knife, immerses himself in the corrupt culture in and around the Barndale Young Offenders Institution. Secrets are revealed, notably that Amin was gay and frequented clubs where he took money for sex from men with reputations to protect. The book is an ingeniously constructed effort that unfolds with pinpoint timing, building to exciting finishes on all fronts. Thorne draws on his own rough beginnings to empathize with the young victims and his own busted relationship with a fellow cop following her miscarriage to empathize with Weeks, mother of a baby son. Billingham does an especially good job in his descriptions of Weeks' steadfast efforts to remain calm at gunpoint and in the face of Akhtar's polar inconsistencies. Thorne's sidekicks are winning.
This great novel should put Billingham in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, John Harvey and Denise Mina.