Mark Billingham has been a crime-fiction sensation in the UK since his first novel, Sleepyhead, was published in 2001 to great acclaim and success. The protagonist of that book, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, has appeared in many subsequent novels and is now a beloved figure in British crime lit.
Billingham earned his success. Raised in Birmingham, he has been an actor, screenwriter, and stand-up comedian for most of his adult life. He continues to work in those fields, but it’s obvious from reading his books that his major love is writing novels. He’s ambitious in the best way; he wants to write good books, and, like any author worth a damn, he’s getting better at it over time. I’ve enjoyed all of Mark’s books to varying degrees, but I do think his last few have been flat-out fantastic. Bloodline, which Mulholland Books is bringing out in the States, is one of my favorites.
In Bloodline, a series of violent deaths are linked by relation to the work of an infamous, long-deceased serial killer. Thorne and his coinvestigators (Hendricks, Holland, Kitson, et al.), an intriguing bunch, all finely drawn, methodically go about the task of finding the murderer who is committing the deadly tribute. Mystery and police procedural aficionados will be very satisfied with the proceedings and will also be treated to a rich character study and a heady snapshot of contemporary London. The dialogue is drolly, organically funny, and the plot speeds to a gripping denouement. It’s a boss performance by Billingham, through and through.
This fall a television series based on two of the Thorne novels, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, will be broadcast on British television. It stars David Morrissey as Thorne, Aiden Gillen (Tommy Carcetti on The Wire) as Hendricks, Sandra Oh, and Natascha McElhone, memorable from John Frankenheimer’s excellent Ronin.
Billingham’s books are as compulsively readable as Michael Connelly’s. I’m on record as saying that Connelly is the best mystery writer in the world, so I can’t give you a more respectful recommendation than that. Don’t let the British milieu or slang scare you; trust me, you’ll get it. American readers will be highly rewarded by giving Billingham a try.
George Pelecanos is the author of fifteen crime novels set in and around Washington, D.C. He is an award-winning essayist who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Sight and Sound, Uncut, Mojo, and numerous other publications. Esquire magazine called Pelecanos “the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world.” He was a producer, writer, and story editor for the acclaimed HBO dramatic series, The Wire, winner of the Peabody Award and the AFI Award. He was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on that show. Pelecanos lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and three children. He is at work on his next novel.