London police inspector Tom Thorne (Scaredy Cat, 2003) goes up against another sadistic killer—though this time the pulse hardly quickens.
Just as grumpy as he was in his previous outing, Thorne is also a little lonelier and randier: a combination that won’t serve him well in the trap that’s set for him. A murderer with a hard-to-suss motive has started snuffing convicted rapists who’ve been released from prison. He (they think it’s a he) likes to whet the rapists’ appetites with suggestive correspondence and pictures, then lure them to a hotel and—well, the details are a bit rough. Let’s just say there’s little for Thorne and his all-too-human squad at the Metropolitan Police Service (normally a pretty sensitive cop, Thorne fondly remembers a time when they were a “force” and not a “service”) much to go on. Compounding the lack of workable clues is the fact that it’s hard for most people (readers included) to whip up much sympathy for the victims, and when Fleet Street gets a whiff of the story, the tabloids can’t congratulate the killer enough for his deeds. And, just to make Thorne’s personal life (a long, sad round of takeout curry, football on the telly, and cans of lager) even more desolate, his apartment gets burgled and his car stolen. About the only thing looking up for him is the sputtering flirtation he’s carrying on with Eve, a florist who telephoned in the first murder scene Thorne was called to (the killer likes to order bouquets). What the author has going for him is an unusually character-rich policeman who carries some of the gravitas of a George Pelecanos or James Lee Burke protagonist without those authors’ tendencies toward morose self-involvement. Frustratingly, though, the plot is stalled as often as Thorne’s relationship with Eve, and the climax’s big surprise is telegraphed about a hundred pages too early.
Written with care, though Billingham may need to switch the formula soon.