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by Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2017
432 pages
ISBN: 0802126537

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the 14th entry in the D.I. Tom Thorne series, Mark Billingham tackles a touchy issue. A fellow detective, Nicola Tanner (who featured in DIE OF SHAME, 2016) has suffered a terrible bereavement. Her life partner, a school teacher, has been brutally attacked in their home and murdered. Tanner is certain she was the killers' intended target. She had been working in the Honour Crimes Unit and had developed a theory that two hired killers were carrying out a series of violent crimes against women whose family members had decided they needed punishment. She's convinced her two suspects are the ones who have ruined her life and put her on the sidelines, since she's not allowed to be involved in the investigation. She takes it to Tom Thorne, renowned for breaking rules.

He's reluctant to add this case to his workload, but breaking rules appeals to him, and his boss is willing to look the other way as he tests Tanner's theory by taking up one of his cold cases, one that Tanner is certain can be put down to her two killers-for-hire. If he can connect the dots, he might also bring down the men who killed Tanner's partner.

Before he gets much further, readers are introduced to a young couple who are planning to run away from their oppressive parents and, in their company, we encounter the pair of hired killers: an intense South Asian man who makes the arrangements, and a profane and voluble Irishman with a taste for violence. Though we know who is behind the honor killings, the suspense is in watching Tanner and Thorne pick up their trail and their efforts to figure out who's paying them.

An author's note explains that this story was inspired by the violent murder of a woman who tried to escape an arranged abusive marriage and cooperated with police to name those who she believed had made an attempt on her life. Ultimately, her killers succeeded. Her fate was one of thousands of cases of honor-based violence in the UK. Billingham does justice to a subject that could be handled badly during an era of rampant Islamophobia, never climbing on a soap box but treating the topic with the shades of complexity and ethical clarity it deserves. He has traded the theatrical serial-killer-with-a-difference plotlines of the first entries in this series for a more thoughtful if less frantically paced engagement with violence and its social vectors. But he keeps a few surprises up his sleeve.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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