It seemed appropriate to move from people locked up in an Asylum to people in a recovery support group for various addictions. Author Mark Billingham is arguably best known for his Tom Thorne novels, but Die of Shame is a standalone crime novel which emphasizes the dynamics and relationships within a support group.
Therapist Tony De Silva, much to his wife Nina’s annoyance, holds the support group meetings at his posh London home. It’s a small group consisting of Robin, a doctor, ex-junkie Heather, sometime rent boy Chris Clemence, and well-to-do divorced Diana. The group dynamic shifts when the morbidly obese Caroline joins the weekly meetings.
The group members usually socialize at a local pub after the Monday night meetings, but the relationships are really rather forced. While all the group members share the common problem of a past addiction, these people come from different walks of life and in any other circumstances would not mingle.
A respected doctor in his early sixties, with a history of addiction to a variety of easily available medications. A thirty-two-year-old woman once addicted to drugs and gambling. A young gay man, living in a series of hostels and shelters, his drug dependency now replaced by an addiction to computer games and online pornography. A well-heeled housewife who had drifted into alcoholism as her domestic life had disintegrated and now shops compulsively instead of reaching for a bottle of wine at breakfast.
Tensions within the group increase when therapist Tony decides that exploring past events that caused group members to feel shame might well address the root problem of addiction. The group members find themselves sharing information that’s been long buried.
The group is a mixed, and believable bunch of recovering addicts: Diana, an alcoholic, is a middle aged woman who cannot accept that her husband has divorced her after meeting a much younger woman. Diane lives in a beautiful home and has no money worries, but nothing fills the void created by her bitter loneliness. Robin, a doctor with access to all sorts of drugs, ran amok with the privileges extended by his medical license, but he managed to pull himself out of the abyss of addiction–not before infecting several people with Hepatitis C. Heather, a rather tomboyish ex junkie and gambler, ekes out a marginal living on state assistance, and she’s closest to sometime rent boy, the homeless, acerbic and unpopular Chris.
The book goes back and forth between the murder investigation of one of the group members and the weekly sessions conducted by Tony. As the story unfolds, we see that Tony, with a resentful wife and a pot-smoking rebellious teenage daughter, has a number of problems of his own. The sessions between the recovering addicts come to crackling life while showing the tensions and burdens of sharing information.
“What about you?” Heather asks. She looks at Caroline.
“Oh, please!” Chris leans forward. “It’s not like you need to be Sherlock Holmes, is it? Look at her.”
“You are such a twat,” Heather says.
“I’m used to it,” Caroline says. “Doesn’t bother me.”
“That’s good,” Tony says.
“Yes … I had a problem with compulsive overeating. I’ve always had … issues with food, with weight. Then, when my knees started to give out, I got hooked in painkillers. So …”
“Right,” Chris says, “But it’s really all about why your knees gave out, isn’t it? Your basic addiction is to cake at the end of the day. Eating all the pies.”
DI Nicola Tanner investigates the murder. She’s a humourless, but not unsympathetic character, a lesbian whose partner has a drinking problem, and so there are moments when aspects of the investigation become personally relevant for Tanner. The investigation is hampered by Tony’s reluctance to share information about the group’s sessions, but Tanner is convinced that the solution to the murder lies with the group members. In spite of the book’s length, author Billingham keeps tension and interest high, and the ending, which is, somewhat disappointingly, not conclusive, hints that perhaps the story doesn’t finish here.
Thanks to Cleopatra Loves Books for pointing me towards the book in the first place.