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Mark Billingham's Scaredy Cat is as inventive his previous serial killer novel a Sleepyhead. Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has the job of watching out for patterns and thinks he spots one--two similar killings on the same day; women followed from a mainline station and then strangled. Rapidly, though, it becomes clear that the methods differed in all sorts of ways--one killing was controlled, the other frenzied--and the timings do not work out. On a hunch, Thorne checks for other such pairings and finds them--this time two killers are working as a team, one setting the other challenges.
We know what Thorne does not, that all of this has to do with things that happened at school years ago; we also know a lot more than Thorne about the demons that drive some of his own investigating team. Billingham sets himself some complicated technical challenges here--flashes back and forwards, and closeups of killers' minds that keep crucial information from us--and some of the complications don't quite work. Overall, though, this is a terrifying exploration of brutal madness, made all the more so by touches of compassion for the killer's victims--the killer may think this a game, but we and Thorne know it is not.--Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Billingham's second thriller (after Sleepyhead) featuring London Det. Insp. Tom Thorne offers a twist on the serial killer subgenre. Brooding, melancholy Thorne heads a team of detectives who are alerted to the death of a young mother brutally strangled as her three-year-old son looks on. The body of a second murder victim, strangled in the same manner, turns up the same day, and Thorn and his team surmise they have a serial killer on their hands. The first half of the book deals with Thorne's discovery that there are really two killers at work and introduces the childhood backstory of the murderers. The second half picks up speed as the actual hunt commences. Billingham is adept at creating believable characters with ordinary and not-so-ordinary personal problems, then weaving them into the plot in surprising ways. At times, though, he pushes too hard to make Thorne's colleagues quirky: "Thorne stared at the figure in black fleece, with shaved head and a startling collection of facial piercings. Phil Hendricks was not everyone's idea of a pathologist, but he was the best Thorne had ever worked with." Thorne's gloomy internal musings on death and guilt tend to slow things down, but Billingham's handling of the plot is deft, fair and scattered with enough red herrings to open a fish and chips shop. When the mastermind behind both sets of killings is revealed in a dramatic denouement, readers will give the author his due and settle back to wait for the next installment of this dependable series.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.