Tom Thorne gets double the usual headache when a pair of serial killers start terrorizing London.
As a London Detective Inspector Thorne definitely makes the grade; as a human being, he’s not so much fun. Morose and prickly on his best days, he’s given to listening to Johnny Cash while poring over grisly crime in his spare time. First introduced in Billingham’s debut (Sleepy Head, 2002), Thorne is an intriguing protagonist in that on the one hand he’s your typical troubled cop but, on the other, Billingham makes him human enough and surrounds him with enough other flawed people so you can understand why some people would actually hang around. Here, the reason for Thorne’s melancholy is a new string of murders that happen in pairs and appear to be the work of two serial killers working together. What gives Thorne and his team pause is their having found copious tears at one of the scenes: the killer was crying as he did his deed. Particularly haunting is the first murder, when a young mother was butchered in front of her three-year-old, who survived. Billingham takes his good time revealing who the killer is, flashing back from the present-day mayhem to a pair of schoolkids in the 1980s, one of whom excelled in the art of manipulation and kept his entire class in abject terror. Thorne’s unusual amount of empathy ensures that the police procedural never gets too abstracted, while Billingham’s measured and involving emphasis on developing the characters of the other cops (at least one of them seems to be cracking under the strain of the grim profession) keeps the reader from flipping ahead.
Not the greatest thriller of the year, but one that mixes its chills with a healthy (and welcome) dose of reality.