Wednesday, 19 August 2020

MARK BILLINGHAM'S CRY BABY

Cry Baby is Mark Billingham’s twentieth novel, and the seventeenth featuring Tom Thorne. This makes me feel old, because I still recall vividly the impact Sleepyhead made back in 2001, and he had amply delivered on the promise of that novel. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the man some might dub lazily The King Of North London Noir, but I think it’s a telling and indeed brilliant stroke that Billingham has chosen this landmark book to be a prequel to the Thorne series.

Set in 1996, Thorne is a DS, and still reeling from the effects of an earlier case where he didn’t follow or trust fully his instincts. Now he finds himself caught up in the abduction of a child, a child whose father is a career criminal currently in prison, and a case on which the force is under extreme pressure to get a result, and quickly. So although Thorne wants to use and trust his instincts, his commander doesn’t agree, and doesn’t trust him.

This uncertainty is part of what makes the story work so well. There are suspects, false leads and unexpected discoveries. There are leaks to the tabloid press which work against solving the case. And there is throughout the self-questioning of Thorne as he encounters a mother faced with the greatest loss imaginable, and her friend, who was looking after the boy and her son when, just for an instant, she missed them. The contrast of the two women, unlikely friends whom tragic loss separates, is part of the beauty of the story: Billingham is excellent with character and with setting, the contrast of their lives is not just that one woman lives in a council flat with her husband in stir, and the other in a nicer part of North London, with her divorced husband father out, but the way in which their statuses drive them apart. The subtleties of distinction have always been the meat of Billingham’s books, he has the detective’s eye.

Which is where Thorne is different from many of the other detectives with whom he is linked, some of whom influenced Mark when he started writing. The instinct which Thorne felt in his previous case is a sign that, like say, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck, he is a detective, by nature; it defines him above any other human qualities. But unlike Beck, he is, or wants to be, a more ‘normal’ person outside the job, always one of the key dilemmas detectives in police procedurals often face. Some, like John Harvey’s Resnick or Henning Mankell’s Wallender, appear to succeed; others like Marlowe or Graham Hurley’s Joe Farady battle throughout their series, with different ends. I find it interesting that Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason (Erlendur) brought their detectives to a recognisable end, then began prequel series with them as cops on the beat.

For Billingham, this taking Thorne back to 1996 is case specific, and as such it works brilliantly to reveal Thorne’s inner core. As a story on its own, it delivers too; with an unexpected twist at the end which casts a chilling shadow over the story, and a brief coda set in the present which reflects perfectly on Thorne’s self, as both person and detective.

One you ought to read.

Cry Baby by Mark Billingham Little Brown £20 ISBN 9781408712412
This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

3 comments :

Rick Robinson said...

What is the U.S. release date?

Michael Carlson said...

I believe it is already out in the US

ีuplay365 said...

Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this, It's very interesting Blog...
I believe there are many who feel the same satisfaction as I read this article!
I hope you will continue to have such articles to share with everyone!
ALLBET