The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours is the 11th Tom Thorne novel from British crime author Mark Billingham. The book begins with a death taking place, and then shortly thereafter DI Tom Thorne is called to the scene of what appears to be a double suicide of a couple in their 70s. Something doesn’t seem right to Thorne, and that comes partly as a sense from years of being detective but it’s also partly from subconscious recognition that he’s missing something. The suicide scene and then the hustle and bustle of police work and the subsequent reports are all very well set up:

They both turned as the bedroom door opened and one of the PCs who had been stationed downstairs stuck his head around it. Before the officer could speak, the on-call doctor pushed past him into the room; young, rosy-cheeked and rugger-bugger-ish. He spent no more than a few minutes examining the bodies, while Thorne watched from the corner of the room. Downstairs, Woodley hammered a small pice of MDF in place across the broken window downstairs while another PC made tea for everyone.

“Right then” the doctor said. He closed his bag and checked his watch to get an accurate time for the pronouncement. “Life extinct.” he sounded rather more cheerful than anyone had a right to be at quarter to four on a drizzly October morning.

 The doctor deems the case “a nice easy one,” but the scene of the seemingly double suicide troubles Thorne. In his mind, there’s “something off,” and when he brings his concerns to Detective Inspector Binns, Thorne is smacked back down into his place. Once part of a murder squad, Thorne, “not demoted strictly speaking,” but transferred to Lewisham and back in uniform after years on the force is now policing some very mundane cases, and he’s not happy about it. Thorne’s intuition about the seemingly-double suicide is interpreted by Binns as simply a desire to see murders where there are none, and Binns is delighted to treat Thorne and his concerns with scorn. Thorne, however, doesn’t stop with a refusal to investigate, and so he begins digging around on his own.

The Dying HoursThe Dying Hours finds Thorne morose and depressed with his new status after being punished for what is seen as the cock-up that occurred in Good as Dead. Thorne is taking his punishment well–on the outside at least but, in reality, chafing and humming with discontent against his new role. His general attitude isn’t exactly helping with his new relationship with Helen, another police officer.

The plot underscores two intriguing points: 1) the suicides of anyone in their late 60s and above seem to be something detectives accept without too much question and 2) the very disturbing thought that investigations can fly or not depending on the personalities and relationships of the officers involved. Thorne repeatedly tries to get these suicides investigated, but the stain against his professionalism guarantees that no one will listen. Hardly a comforting thought.

Although I am new to the Thorne series, on the plus side, I didn’t feel as though I was out of step at all. It was easy to step into this, the 11th book, without missing a beat or feeling as though I had to play catch up with either Thorne’s personal or professional life. On the down side, I did not get a clear sense of just who Thorne is. We see a few brief scenes with Helen, and a few scenes of Thorne butting heads, but apart from that, Thorne’s character was thin. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to Ken Bruen’s fantastic A White Arrest –a crime novel which includes an incredibly well-drawn protagonist, Detective Sgt. Brant, a man whose complex, difficult character oozes off the page. That sort of complexity is absent here; instead Thorne is a man doing his job, and while there’s a sense of this character’s tenacity (and also why he ended up in trouble), there’s not much beyond that. As a series character, this spells trouble as I don’t have an urge to go back and read more.


Review copy


Filed under Billingham Mark, Fiction

8 responses to “The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

  1. I’ve got one of Billingham’s novels (Lifeless) but haven’t read it yet, I’m not even sure it’s one of this series.
    It’s true, when elderly people die, there is far less questioning.

    • That’s Thorne’s point. In one case, the dead woman had even booked a holiday, but it wasn’t enough to make the other investigators suspicious. I have another one on my shelf too.

  2. You wrote Guy

    “very disturbing thought that investigations can fly or not depending on the personalities and relationships of the officers involved.”

    The really disturbing thought here is that if you substitute the word investigation for “political issue”, “medical issue”, “”technical issue” or an infinite number of other things I think that it is often true. I think that this is a great example of how a book can say something very important about the world at large.

    • Yes that is very true. Sometimes I read about unsolved crimes and wonder what other issues were there to block progress on a case. Sometimes it makes no sense, but the clash of personalities may play into it. And you’re right, I can think of medical cases too where nurses didn’t want to tread on the doctor’s toes, etc

  3. It’s always an issue with series. The richness of them comes from the tapestry of books. Without that any individual title risks seeming a bit anaemic characterwise.

    Nice plot and concepts though.

    • I took at other reviews–esp those written by readers who were familiar with the series, and I found some who felt the same as me–that the book was thin on character. Others loved the book, so perhaps their familiarity with the character carried them through.

  4. The pros and cons of series. Either the character is very strong and his extra-professional life is well-described and you may get lost if you haven’t followed everything from the beginning, or the character is thinner so that everyone can catch up.
    Will you read more of him?

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