on January 25, 2007
Mark Billingham is a former actor and stand-up comedian whose first crime novel - "Sleepyhead" - was published in 2001. "Scaredy Cat" is his second novel and, like his first, also features DI Tom Thorne as its central character. It won the 2003 Sherlock Award, and was also nominated for the CWA Golden Dagger Award. In 2005, he won the Theakston's Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award for "Lazy Bones".
Thorne is a member of London's Metropolitan Police and works with the Serious Crime Group - officially, they investigate crimes that don't quite 'fit' anywhere else. Known to some as 'The Weeble', he's stubborn, can be a little tactless and doesn't always play by the rules. Thorne is also divorced - he currently lives alone, is having trouble with his dad and doesn't socialise a great deal. Occasionally, he will take in a football game and a few beers with Phil Hendricks, the team's pathologist. Hendricks, it has to be said, isn't quite Quincy : he has plenty of piercings (one for each ex-boyfriend), is shaven-headed and certainly appears to be the best friend Thorne has. (As this is the first book by Billingham I've read, I have no idea what part - if any - Hendricks played in Thorne's divorce). The two officers Thorne works most closely with are Sarah McEvoy and Dave Holland. Holland, despite having a girlfriend called Sophie, has taken a serious interest in both his career and in McEvoy. McEvoy, on the other hand, has taken quite an interest in <ahem> 'someone' called 'Charlie'.
The team has been assigned to a suspected serial killer. Two women have been killed in remarkably similar circumstances. One, a single mother called Carol Garner, was strangled at home in front of her three-year old son. She had just returned from visiting her parents in Birmingham and it's believed the killer followed her from Euston Station. The other, Ruth Murray, was found on a street just behind King's Cross Station. However, a close examination reveals some strange differences between the two victims. When the details of two unsolved stabbings about six months previously are added, it becomes clear the team have two serial killers working together. The identities of the two killers - Dave Palmer and Stuart Nicklin - are revealed very early in the book. It's clear, however, that Nicklin has always been the one very much in control - he plans the killings and has somehow manipulated Palmer into taking part. We only gradually learn of their past and the importance of a girl called Karen to both of them.
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit - it was very easily read and Thorne reminded me a little of Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly's LAPD investigator. However, the mood in "Scaredy Cat" seems a little lighter than in anything I've read by Connelly. I would possibly suggest reading Billingham's books in order - there were a few nods to the events of "Sleepyhead", the first book to feature Thorne. While I haven't read it just yet - though I do plan to - I have the impression that Billingham gave away a little more about that book than I would've liked. Recommended all the same.