Billingham’s series sort-of-hero, DI Tom Thorne (Buried, 2007, etc.), has to settle for a supporting role, practically a walk-on, in this tangled tale of what happens after an aspiring gang member shoots into a car in London.
Theo Shirley is ready to move up. Now that he’s sold enough drugs to support a girlfriend and a baby son, his mate Easy Dennison offers him a boost up the next rung of the ladder. As part of his initiation, Theo’s taken out one night in a car without headlights. When the driver of a BMW flashes her lights at his car, he’s ordered to shoot into her back seat, and his target, Sarah Ruston, runs her BMW into a bus stop. The result is disaster for another unlikely family: DS Paul Hopwood and his girlfriend Helen Weeks, who’s carrying a baby that may or may not be his. Relations have been cool between Paul and Helen ever since he found out about the fling she had at a particularly inopportune time. Now they’re never going to warm up again. It’s a sad story of random gang violence, but not, it seems, an uncommon one—except for a series of dark revelations. First, the accident may have had less to do with drugs than an internal investigation by the police; second, there’s a growing suspicion that the freak accident may not have been so accidental after all; third, somebody is evidently closing the case a step ahead of the authorities by killing the friends in Theo’s gang, leaving him the odd man out in more ways than one.
The detection is hit or miss—mostly miss—but Americans who think the bleak world George Pelecanos brings to life is limited to the nation’s capital will find Billingham’s atmospheric maze of London byways just as sprawling and squiggling with desperate cops and robbers.