The first corpse was found hooded, bound, and naked, kneeling on a bare mattress in a seedy hotel room. This was no ordinary murder but rather the work of a killer driven by something special, something spectacular. The fact that the dead man was a convicted rapist recently released from prison only increases the bizarre nature of the gruesome crime ... and the police's reluctance to apprehend the perpetrator. It's the body count that troubles Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, as brutal slaying follows brutal slaying, each victim more deserving than the last. Though he has no sympathy for the dead, Thorne knows he must put an end to a cruelly calculating vigilante's bloody justice before time runs out -- and a horrifically efficient serial killer targets a life worth fighting for.
Fans of public television's various BBC Mystery programs would do well to tune into this third in Billingham's series (Scaredy Cat; Sleepyhead) featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and his fellow officers of the London Metropolitan Police Service. After the body of a strangled and sexually violated male is found in a seedy hotel room, Thorne quickly learns that the victim was a convicted rapist. When a second recently released rapist is discovered in the same condition, Thorne believes he has a serial revenge killer on his hands. While some of his fellow policemen feel that the victims deserved their fate, Thorne's commitment to justice remains unfailing. Another murder follows, this time of a pornographer whom the detectives link to the other dead men. Billingham does not delve as deeply into either Thorne's personal issues or those of the other policemen as he did in his last book; the detective's dark brooding on the nature of death is replaced here by a healthier, less obsessive introspection. It's a wise move, making Thorne a more accessible character. He still has problems with women and commitment, and his father is still struggling with Alzheimer's, but Thorne has lightened up enough to get himself a girlfriend (though that doesn't work out quite the way he thought it would, to put it mildly). The structure is much like that of the other books, with the anonymous killer alternating chapters with Thorne and his partners until all of them come together in a shocking climax. This is a mature, intelligent novel by a writer who's as thoughtful as his main character, and the series grows better with each new addition.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 23, 2005
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Excerpt from Lazybones by Mark Billingham
The look was slightly spoiled by the training shoes.
The man with the mullet haircut and the sweaty top lip was wearing a smart blue suit, doubtless acquired for the occasion, but he'd let himself down with the bright white Nike Airs. They squeaked on the gymnasium floor as his feet shifted nervously underneath the table.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really, really, sorry."
An elderly couple sat at the table opposite him. The man's back was ramrod straight, his milky blue eyes never leaving those of the man in the suit. The old woman next to the old man clutched at his hand. Her eyes, unlike those of her husband, looked anywhere but at those of the young man who, the last time he'd been this close to them, had been tying them up in their own home.
The trembling was starting around the center of Darren Ellis's meticulously shaved chin. His voice wobbled a little. "If there was anything I could do to make it up to you, I would," he said.
"There isn't," the old man said.
"I can't take back what I did, but I do know how wrong it was. I know what I put you through."
The old woman began to cry.
"How can you?" her husband said.
Darren Ellis began to cry.
In the last row of seats, his back against the gym wall-bars, sat a solidlooking man in a black leather jacket, forty or so, with dark eyes and hair that was grayer on one side than the other. He looked uncomfortable and a little confused. He turned to the man sitting next to him.
"This. Is. Bullshit," Thorne said.
DCI Russell Brigstocke glared at him. There was a shush from a redhaired grunt type a couple of rows in front. One of Ellis's supporters, by the look of him.
"Bullshit," Thorne repeated.
The gymnasium at the Peel Centre would normally be full of eager recruits at this unearthly time on a Monday morning. It was, however, the largest space available for this "Restorative Justice Conference," so the raw young constables were doing their press-ups and star jumps elsewhere. The floor of the gym had been covered with a green tarpaulin and fifty or so seats had been laid out. They were filled with supporters of both offender and victims, together with invited officers who, it was thought, would appreciate the opportunity to be brought up to speed with this latest initiative.
Becke House, where Thorne and Brigstocke were based, was part of the same complex. Half an hour earlier, on the five-minute walk across to the gym, Thorne had moaned without drawing breath.
"If it's an invitation, how come I'm not allowed to turn it down?"
"Shut up," Brigstocke said. They were late and he was walking quickly, trying not to spill hot coffee from a polystyrene cup that was all but melting. Thorne lagged a step or two behind.
"Shit, I've forgotten the bit of paper, maybe they won't let me in." Brigstocke scowled, unamused.
"What if I'm not smart enough? There might be a dress code ... "
"I'm not listening, Tom ... "
Thorne shook his head, flicked out his foot at a stone like a sulky schoolboy. "I'm just trying to get it straight. This piece of pond life ties an old couple up with electrical tape, gives the old man a kick or two for good measure, breaking ... how many ribs?"
"Three ... "
"Three. Thanks. He pisses on their carpet, fucks off with their life savings, and now we're rushing across to see how sorry he is?" "It's just a trial. They've been using RJCs in Australia and the results have been pretty bloody good. Reoffending rates have gone right down ... "
"So, basically, they sit everybody down presentence, and if they all agree that the guilty party is really feeling guilty, he gets to do a bit less time. That it?"
Brigstocke took a last, scalding slurp and dumped the half-full cup in a bin. "It's not quite that simple."
A week and a bit into a steaming June, but the day was still too new to have warmed up yet. Thorne shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his leather jacket.
"No, but whoever thought it up is."
In the gym, the audience watched as Darren Ellis moved balled-up fists from in front of his face to reveal moist, red eyes. Thorne looked around at those watching. Some looked sad and shook their heads. One or two were taking notes. In the front row, members of Ellis's legal team passed pieces of paper between them.
"If I said that I felt like a victim, would you laugh?" Darren asked.
The old man looked calmly at him for fifteen seconds or more before answering flatly. "I'd want to knock your teeth out." "Things aren't always that clear-cut," Darren said. The old man leaned across the table. The skin was tight around his mouth. "I'll tell you what's clear-cut." His eyes flicked toward his wife as he spoke. "She hasn't slept since the night you came into our house. She wets the bed most of the time." His voice dropped to a whisper. "She's got so bloody thin ... "
Something between a gulp and a gasp echoed around the gymnasium as Darren dropped his head into his hands and gave full vent to his emotions. A lawyer got to his feet. A senior detective stood up and started walking toward the table. It was time to take a break.
Thorne leaned across and whispered loudly to Brigstocke. "He's very good. What drama school did he go to?" This time, several of the faces that turned to look daggers at him belonged to senior officers ...