Billingham sets aside his bestselling chronicles of DI Tom Thorne (Time of Death, 2015, etc.) to train a laser-sharp focus on the world’s worst therapy group.
There’s no such thing as an ex-addict, and North London therapist Tony De Silva knows that the best he can hope for is that the members of his Monday night group learn to manage their addictions well enough to remain functioning adults. But even that seems like a lot to ask of this particular group. Anesthesiologist Dr. Robin Joffe has been reduced to a consultancy since the death of his son, something he refuses to talk about. Heather Finlay is burdened by a sorry history with both drink and drugs. Diana Knight’s perfect domestic world came crashing down when her husband took up with a girlfriend who’s now triumphantly pregnant. Flamboyant male model Chris Clemence seems less interested in recovery than in striking poses and provoking the other members of the group. Newcomer Caroline Armitage, who clearly has issues with food, seems mainly to serve as a fresh target for Chris’ taunts. The hothouse atmosphere turns even uglier when Heather, who’s missed several weekly sessions since her birthday party, is discovered brutally murdered. How brutally is hard to tell, since DI Nicola Tanner, who’s heading the investigation, doesn’t leak many details. Neither does Billingham, who’s clearly less interested in Tanner’s present-day investigation, presented in a conventional past tense, than the dozens of incendiary flashbacks leading up to the murder, dramatically but perversely set forth in the present tense. The result is to create a boiling Petri dish of alliances forged, strained, and broken amid the background of nonstop, sometimes knife-edged conflict.
The solution, when it arrives, is satisfying enough. But it’s the group portrait of the Monday-night therapy group, the most mismatched set of intimates since your own last family gathering, that lingers longest in the memory.