Internationally bestselling author Mark Billingham's riveting new novel Love Like Blood marks the return of series character Tom Thorne, "the next superstar detective" (Lee Child), as he pairs up with perfectionist detective inspector Nicola Tanner of Die of Shame on an investigation that ventures into politically sensitive territory.
DI Nicola Tanner needs Tom Thorne's help. Her partner, Susan, has been brutally murdered and Tanner is convinced that it was a case of mistaken identitythat she was the real target. The murderer's motive might have something to do with Tanner's recent work on a string of cold-case honor killings she believes to be related. Tanner is now on compassionate leave but insists on pursuing the case off the books and knows Thorne is just the man to jump into the fire with her. He agrees but quickly finds that working in such controversial territory is dangerous in more ways than one. And when a young couple goes missing, they have a chance to investigate a case that is anything but cold.
Racing towards a twist-filled ending, Love Like Blood is another feat of masterful plotting from one of Britain's top crime novelists.
About the Author
Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakstons Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and also won the Sherlock Award for "Best Detective Created by a British Author." His books, which include the critically acclaimed Tom Thorne series, have been translated into twenty-five languages and have sold over four million copies.
Read an Excerpt
Who wouldn't welcome an unexpected smile?
At that moment, standing where he was, Tom Thorne was seriously considering the question. There weren't too many smiles flying about in court, as a rule. When the person doing the smiling was the one being escorted from the dock, having just been convicted of murder – in large part thanks to Thorne – it was, to say the least, mildly disconcerting.
Thorne smiled back, raised two fingers for good measure, then left the courtroom as quickly as possible.
The trial had made the front page of the Standard and had been deemed worthy of a few minutes on the local TV news, but there wasn't a large crowd outside the Old Bailey. No lawyers reading prepared statements before clusters of microphones, no scrum of cameramen jostling for position. No carefully chosen words about justice, or grief. Just a few members of the prosecution team shaking hands, and the victim's father, talking to a woman Thorne recognised.
He watched the awkward hug, then saw her turn and walk in his direction.
She was somewhere in her mid-thirties and a little below average height. Her round face was framed by brown hair styled into an unfussy bob, the fringe a little straggly. The dark blue skirt and blazer were as practical, as efficient, as Thorne had been led to believe the woman herself was, though of course it might simply have been a case of choosing clothes that were suitable for the occasion. Thorne himself was wearing the dark suit that was only ever dragged out and dry-cleaned for funerals or court appearances. As the woman approached, Thorne adjusted his waistband and told himself that, though he was happy enough to give the funerals a miss, he might need to cut down on the takeaways if he wanted to carry on giving evidence.
He shifted from one foot to another, waited.
'Good result,' the woman said, when she finally reached him.
Thorne had been preparing to shake hands, but the woman clearly preferred to skip the formalities. 'Down to you,' he said.
'Only to begin with.'
'You did all the legwork.'
'Well ...' She seemed content to accept the acknowledgement and stood looking anywhere but at Thorne, as though putting off the moment when she would have to say what was actually on her mind.
'Course you did,' Thorne said. 'I just came on at the end. Supersub.'
'That's a football thing, right?'
Thorne knew who DI Nicola Tanner was, of course, though they had never met, and he had not been in court the day she had given evidence. Six months earlier, she had led the inquiry into the murder of a young woman named Heather Finlay and become convinced that the killer belonged to a weekly therapy group that Finlay had attended, together with other recovering addicts. With the investigation stalled, Thorne had been brought in undercover to join the group and, after several months of regular sessions, had been able to identify a prime suspect.
The same suspect who, as of fifteen minutes earlier, was now a convicted killer.
'Have you got time for a quick chat?' Tanner asked.
Thorne could not be sure at whose instigation they had begun to move, but as Tanner asked the question they were already walking away from the building, the golden figure of Lady Justice towering high above them, sword raised skywards as if to suggest that she was ready to hand out rather more than an ASBO. 'Yeah, I think so.'
They turned along the main road towards Newgate Street. 'Thank you,' Tanner said.
Once again, Thorne got the impression that the chat was not one Tanner was looking forward to. It made him a little nervous. Knowing something of her reputation, he wondered if he was about to be pulled up for some lapse in procedure during the latter stages of the Finlay case, or perhaps just told firmly that he needed a new suit.
'Anyway, we should celebrate,' Thorne said, 'and there's a decent pub round the corner.' He nodded towards the Viaduct, a former gin palace that stood on the site of a debtor's prison. There were usually a few too many legal types in there for Thorne's liking, but the place had a nice selection of toasties and the beer was always good.
A few steps further on, Tanner said, 'Can we just go for coffee? Do you mind?'
'Well, a latte isn't my idea of a celebration, but if you'd rather.'
'Going back to the office?'
Tanner was looking straight ahead. 'I'm on compassionate leave.'
Thorne took a breath and said, 'Sorry,' because he guessed there would be good reason to say it, but he worried it was lost beneath the growl of a passing taxi. So he said it again.
Tanner took a few more steps, then stopped. The drizzle, which had been in the air all day, had begun to make good on its threat. She fished in her handbag for an umbrella. 'My partner was killed.' She unfurled her umbrella and looked up from beneath it at Thorne. 'I don't mean my work partner. She was murdered, two weeks ago.'
It took Thorne a second or two to process the two very different pieces of information. 'Jesus ...'
'Her name was Susan Best.' Tanner smiled, just. 'She was a teacher.'
Thorne nodded. He had been aware of the case; the murder victim whose other half was a copper. It was the kind of news that went around, a Job-related homicide, though the name of the copper involved had never been mentioned. He thought about Helen, his girlfriend, and said, 'Sorry,' again, because he didn't know what else to say.
'Obviously, I'm not allowed to be part of the investigation in any way,' Tanner said. 'I mean those are the rules and they're there for very good reasons.'
Thorne had heard enough about Nicola Tanner to know that rules were something she normally set a lot of store by. It was not a trait they had in common. 'Frustrating though, good reasons or not.'
Tanner's look made it clear just how frustrated she was. 'It's why I wanted to talk to you.'
'Well, I'm not involved in it either.' Thorne had begun to see where this could be heading and was keen to maintain a degree of distance. He might be willing to make the odd phone call as a favour, to pass on such information as he was able to glean, but he had enough going on as it was to do much beyond that. 'Where did it happen?'
'Hammersmith. Susan was killed at our home. I know that's outside your area, but it doesn't really matter because none of this would be on the books anyway.'
'None of what?'
'I need to catch the people who killed her,' Tanner said.
'Of course you do,' Thorne said. 'And I'm sure the team that's on it will catch them.'
'I need your help.'
'Hang on —'
'They thought she was me.' Tanner stared hard at Thorne, but only for a moment or two before she half turned away, to avoid the rain that was coming at her in gusts from the side, or perhaps because she did not want him to see what became of her expression. 'She was driving my car. They killed Susan, but it was me they were after.'
Now, Thorne looked away too. For a few seconds he watched the traffic crawling past towards St Paul's, the chaotic procession of umbrellas, but he could feel the steady gaze at his back; the scrutiny of the golden figure staring down from the dome behind them. That sword at the ready to mete out punishment.
He stepped across and put a hand on Tanner's shoulder to urge her gently forward.
'Pub,' he said.CHAPTER 2
From the bar, Thorne glanced back to see Tanner sitting patiently at the table they had bagged in the corner. He watched her pick up her phone, swipe at the screen a few times, then set it back down. He watched her use the tips of two fingers to straighten the handset in line with the edge of the tabletop before sitting back and folding her hands into her lap.
A few seconds later, she moved the phone again.
Failing to catch the eye of the barman, Thorne looked around at the pub's lavish Victorian interior: ornate marble columns, gilded mirrors and decorated glass. Fine, he supposed, if you liked that kind of thing, though his own taste ran rather more towards spit and sawdust. A wooden sign listed the rules for those entering the old 'gaol', while another inside the door proudly boasted that the pub was among the most haunted in the city and a regular stop on London's ghost tours. Thorne wondered if the spirits were all those of customers who had died while waiting to be served.
'Look at the arse on that last one.'
Thorne turned to see the barman pointing towards a row of large paintings on the far wall. Three women wearing togas – Thorne supposed they would be called 'maidens' – in various wistful poses. With a statue, what looked like a sheaf of wheat ...
'Agriculture, business and the arts,' the barman said. 'What they're meant to be. Represent, whatever. The one at the end's got a dirty big hole in her rear end, though ... see?'
Thorne craned his neck obligingly, but couldn't see anything.
'Some soldier in the First World War ... shot it or stuck a bayonet in it or something.'
'Everyone's a critic,' Thorne said.
He carried a glass of Glenfiddich and a pint of Guinness back to the table, laid them well away from Tanner's phone. He raised his glass and Tanner did the same and, for a second or two, they stared at one another a little awkwardly. Were they celebrating the result in court or toasting Tanner's murdered girlfriend?
'Right.' Thorne lowered his eyes, then his mouth, to the beer.
After downing half her whisky in two gulps, Tanner began talking. Though they had said nothing else about her dead partner on the short walk to the pub, she spoke as though picking up the thread of a conversation that had only been briefly interrupted. As though Thorne had invited her to carry on where they'd left off.
'After the Finlay case, I did some work with the Honour Crimes Unit,' she said. 'Such as it is.' She waited a few seconds. 'Some of the murder cases that had gone cold. Some of those they suspected were honour killings, but couldn't prove.'
'How many's that?'
'A lot more than the official figures would have you believe, but it really depends which sort you're talking about.' Tanner reached for a coaster and put her glass down. 'Some perpetrators take a lot of trouble to make a straightforward honour killing look like something else. Something sexually motivated, a random attack, a suicide, maybe. Sometimes the victim just mysteriously disappears, goes abroad for a wedding and never comes back, and I've come across at least a couple that look suspiciously like faked car accidents.'
Thorne nodded. These were scenarios he had come across only rarely, but which were nonetheless familiar. 'What's the other sort?'
Half a smile. 'I knew you'd ask the right questions.'
Thorne took a sip of Guinness. Thinking: Or the wrong ones. Up close, he could see that there was rather more grey in Tanner's hair than he had noticed before; that suchmake-up as there was could not disguise the deep lines around the woman's mouth and the shadowy half-moons beneath her eyes.
A face changed by a fortnight of tears and no sleep.
Tanner smiled and leaned forward. The answer to Thorne's question was clearly the reason they were here. 'Well, the trouble with honour killings ... for the people that carry them out, I mean ... is that any copper with half a brain cell tends to know who they're looking for. It's the father or the brothers or the uncles or some other family combination. Obviously there's a lot of lying and secrecy to deal with, but we tend to get there in the end. Not quite an open and shut case, but pretty close.'
'Not always men though, right?'
'No, not always, but nine times out of ten it's a relative.'
'I'm guessing it's the one time out of ten that you're interested in though.'
Her expression confirmed it. 'Look, there isn't an ounce of anything like nobility in what these people do. None at all. It's murder, pure and simple, pretending to be something else, but some of those responsible do at least accept that they'll be going to prison for it. The punishment is ... part of it, in some twisted way. Some of them are quite happy to strangle their sisters or daughters and then march into the nearest police station and ask for the handcuffs to be slapped on.'
'Men of honour,' Thorne said, the beer not tasting quite as good as it did a minute before.
'Others are rather more ... cowardly, if that's even possible. They don't want to get caught, so they pay others to do it.'
Thorne shrugged. 'Makes sense. You know, if you're the kind of scumbag who thinks your own flesh and blood deserves to die for wearing a skirt you don't approve of.'
'Right. Because you can't possibly risk going to prison because you're important. You've got a business to run and a family to keep together. You matter.' She took another drink, getting to it. 'Before Susan was killed, I'd become convinced that I'd found several cases where this is exactly what had happened. The methods were different, the locations, but I'm sure those murders were carried out by people who'd been paid by the victim's family.'
'Yes, if you like. Two of them. I think this pair has actually carried out contract-stylehonour killings all over the world. Pakistan, Turkey, Syria. Like I said, the ones I'm talking about over here were all slightly different, but in every case, somewhere in the files, there was a reference to two men. Two men seen in a car outside a house or watching a college one of the victims attended. Two men spotted hanging around near the scene of the crime. I got a few descriptions, and I've got what I reckon is a pretty decent e-fit.'
'You took all this to your superiors, I presume?'
'It's not like the brass wasn't interested, but putting all this together did cause a certain amount of friction. There were community leaders getting up in arms, there were complaints. Emails back and forth between various Chief Constables. In the current climate, this kind of thing's a political hot potato, I suppose. I get why they're ... wary.'
'Offending delicate sensibilities.'
'Yes, well fuck that.'
Thorne was taken aback to hear Tanner swear, but there was no doubting her passion; her anger. 'I couldn't agree more,' he said. 'Actually, I rather enjoy offending delicate sensibilities.'
'One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.'
Thorne smiled, but he was eager to know what the other reasons might be.
'The fact is, having me out of the picture because of what happened to Susan rather suits everybody, I think. But I know I'm right about this, so I'm buggered if I'm letting it go.'
'I think these same two men killed Susan.' Her voice had dropped; broken a little. 'I think whoever's been paying them to carry out these honour killings put their hands in their pockets and paid to have me killed as well, because I'm becoming a nuisance. They made a mistake.'
Seeing the look on Tanner's face, Thorne could not help thinking that the men she was talking about had made more than one. 'Why are you coming to me with this?'
'Because you did such a great job on the Finlay thing, and because one of the cases I've been looking at was yours.'
Thorne put his glass down.
Thorne remembered the case, because it was one of those that was never solved. They were the ones that stayed with him; those and a few of the killers he had managed to catch. The special ones.
'She was raped and strangled, four years ago.'
'I know.' The words caught in Thorne's throat. Meena Athwal had been a college student. Bright and ambitious, trying to be independent. 'Once we'd done a bit of digging, it made sense to look at the honour killing angle. We brought in a couple of specialists, but we couldn't make it stick.'
'Of course not,' Tanner said. 'Because all the likely suspects had cast-iron alibis. The father and the brothers, everyone. Funny, that.'
Thorne was trying to remember: witness statements, house to house. Had there been any mention back then of two individuals who might have been the men Tanner was talking about?
'So, what exactly do you think I can do?' he asked.
'I don't know yet. I just wanted to see what you made of it, that's all. What your ... inclination might be.'
Thorne's inclination at that moment was to down another pint as quickly as possible.
'How did you know, by the way?' Tanner asked.
'How did I know what?'
'When you were in that therapy group. How did you know which of them it was?'
'A smile,' Thorne said. 'A particular sort of smile. I could see they'd worked out that I was pretending to be something I wasn't and I knew straight away it was because they were pretending too.'
'You got another one today,' Tanner said. 'A smile.' She stood up and grabbed her handbag. 'Same again?'
'Please.' Thorne watched Tanner walk to the bar, raise a hand and succeed in attracting the attention of the barman immediately. She struck Thorne as someone who tended to get what they were after.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love Like Blood"
Copyright © 2017 Mark Billingham Ltd.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakstons Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and also won the Sherlock Award for "Best Detective Created by a British Author." His books, which include the critically acclaimed Tom Thorne series, have been translated into twenty-five languages and have sold over five million copies. He lives in London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As usual the story becomes interesting and fast paced. It shows personal interaction and successes and failures, which makes the story that much more intriguing. It’s heart pounding and suspenseful! Another great read by a favorite author?
The book blurb does a good job of describing the main story line of #14 in the Tom Thorne series. DI Nicola Tanner is convinced her partner’s murder was a case of mistaken identity & she was the real target. Tanner has a theory about some recent honour killings in London. It’s a sensitive subject & she hasn’t exactly endeared herself to members of the religious communities involved. When she’s put on compassionate leave, some of her colleagues are hoping a little time away will help ease tension between the victim’s families & police. But Nicola has other plans. She figures her partner was killed because she was getting too close. All she needs is another cop willing to help, someone with a fluid regard for the rules who won’t mind colouring outside the lines if necessary. Someone like….oooh, I don’t know….Tom Thorne, maybe. They met on a previous case (“Die of Shame”) & although Tom is initially reluctant, Nicola isn’t above playing the sympathy card to get him on board. Besides, there’s a good chance one of his old unsolved homicides is related. “Nuff said about the main plot line. There are plenty of zigs & zags to keep you guessing, especially when you throw in several characters with questionable loyalties. But what really grips you is the subject matter. People of all religions find the concept of honour killings difficult to understand. Here, we are privy to the domestic situations of young men & women who are caught between parents’ traditional expectations & the freer lifestyle that a big city like London has to offer. The book also looks at the challenges faced by police when they attempt to investigate the crimes. Finding someone from the community willing to break the code of silence is difficult. If they press too hard, they may be accused of cultural insensitivity or racial prejudice. It’s a political hot potato that leaves both sides frustrated & many of the cases end up unsolved (see author’s comments at the end for a sobering dose of reality). But this is not a sermon about who’s right & who’s wrong. Instead, Billingham personalizes the issue by giving us relatable characters of all stripes who are just trying to live their lives. There are some nice twists along the way & he reserves a couple of whoppers for the final pages. One in particular, I gotta say….man, I did NOT see that coming. As usual, we get to enjoy Tom trading insults with ME Phil Hendricks over a few pints. I love Phil. If Lisbeth Salander & Quincy had a child (ok, a much younger Quincy) Phil might be the result. More time is given to Tom’s personal life & we get a closer look at his relationship with Helen as well as the challenges faced by 2 cops living under one roof. It’s an intricately plotted & pacey story that keeps you turning the pages to see how it all shakes out. Picking up one of these books is like running into old friends & I look forward to #15.