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The Bones Beneath , the twelfth novel in the internationally bestselling Tom Thorne series shows Thorne facing perhaps the most dangerous killer he has ever put away, Stuart Nicklin. When Nicklin announces that he wishes to reveal the whereabouts of one of his earliest victims and that he wants the cop who caught him to be there when he does it, it becomes clear that Thorne’s life is about to become seriously unpleasant. Thorne is forced to accompany Nicklin to a remote island off the Welsh coast which is cut off from the mainland in every sense. Shrouded in myth and legend, it is said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints and as Thorne and his team search for bones that are somewhat more recent, it becomes clear that Nicklin’s motives are far from altruistic.
The twisted scheme of a dangerous and manipulative psychopath will result in many more victims and will leave Tom Thorne with the most terrible choice he has ever had to make.
About the Author
Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and also won the Sherlock Award for the best detective created by a British writer. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages and have sold over four million copies. He lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
You want the good news or the bad news?
That's what Detective Chief Inspector Russell Brigstocke had said to him back then. Eating his biscuits and trying his patience. Sitting cheerfully on the edge of his bed in that hospital as though they were just old mates chewing the fat. Like Thorne hadn't almost bled to death a few days earlier, like what he laughably called his career wasn't hanging in the balance.
Delivering the verdict.
Good news. Bad news ...
Now, six weeks on, Tom Thorne glanced at his rear-view mirror and saw the huge metal doors sliding shut behind him as he drove into the prison's vehicle compound. Pulling into the parking space that had been reserved for them, he glanced across at Dave Holland in the passenger seat. He saw the apprehension on the sergeant's face. He knew it was etched there on his own too, because he could feel it twisting in his gut, sharper suddenly than the lingering pain from the gunshot wound, which had all but faded into the background.
Like a scream rising above a long, low moan.
Wasn't it usually some kind of a joke? That whole good news/bad news routine?
The good news: You're going to be famous!
The bad news: They're naming a disease after you.
Whichever way round, it was normally a joke ...
The bad news: They found your blood all over the crime scene!
The good news: Your cholesterol's down.
Thorne killed the engine of the seven-seat Ford Galaxy and looked up at the prison. Walls and wire and a sky the colour of wet pavement. This place was certainly nothing to laugh about at stupid o'clock on a Monday morning in the first week of November. There was nothing even remotely funny about the reason they were here.
'He wants you to take him,' Brigstocke had said.
Back in that hospital room, six weeks earlier. The pain a damn sight fresher then. A hot blade in Thorne's side when he'd sat up straight in his wheelchair.
'Yeah, it has to be you. That's one of his conditions.'
'He's got conditions?'
Brigstocke had jammed what was left of a biscuit into his mouth, spat crumbs on to the blanket when he'd answered. 'It's ... complicated.'
A few minutes before that, Brigstocke had announced that, despite conduct during an investigation that could easily have seen Thorne removed from the Job altogether, if not facing prosecution, he was being recalled to the Murder Squad. Miraculously, his demotion to uniform was being overturned and, after four miserable months working in south London, he would be heading back to God's side of the river again. He would remain an inspector, but once again it would be preceded by the one-word job description he had been struggling to live without.
'I'm guessing that's the good news,' Thorne said.
A nod from Brigstocke and a nice long pause and the DCI could not quite maintain eye contact as he began to outline the reason for this unexpectedly positive outcome. As soon as the man's name was mentioned, Thorne tried to interrupt, but Brigstocke held up a hand. He raised his voice and insisted that Thorne allow him to get at least a sentence or two out before voicing his understandable objections.
'It's a game,' Thorne said, the moment Brigstocke had paused for breath. 'Same as it always is with him.'
'It checks out. The timings, the location.'
'I don't care what checks out, he's up to something.' Wishing more than anything that he was still wired up to the morphine pump, Thorne wheeled his chair a few feet forward, then back again. 'Come on, Russell, you know what he's like. What the hell are you all thinking?'
'We're thinking that he's got us over a barrel,' Brigstocke said.
Thorne listened as Brigstocke continued to explain how the man they were talking about – a convicted murderer currently serving multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole – had established contact six months earlier with the mother of a fifteen-year-old boy who had gone missing twenty-five years before. He claimed that he had once known the boy, that they had both been residents at an experimental retreat for troubled teenagers. After several months of communication, he confessed to the woman in a letter that he had in fact murdered her son and buried the boy's body.
'That much I can believe,' Thorne said. 'So far, that's the only bit that makes any sense.'
Brigstocke ignored him and ploughed on. He described the series of desperate visits and phone calls during which the woman had begged the murderer to reveal the whereabouts of her son's grave. How she had contacted the press and written to her local MP, urging him to get involved, until eventually, after a concerted campaign, the prisoner had agreed to co-operate. He would, he had promised, show the police where the teenager had been buried.
Then, Brigstocke had made eye contact, but only for a moment. 'And he wants you to escort him ...'
It had gone back and forth between them for a while after that: Brigstocke urging Thorne to shut up and listen; Thorne doing a lot more shouting than listening; Brigstocke telling him that he'd burst his stitches if he didn't calm down.
'So, what the hell are we supposed to do?' Brigstocke had finished the biscuits. He screwed up the empty packet and attempted to toss it into the metal wastepaper basket in the corner of the room. 'You tell me, Tom. The chief constable's got this MP on her case. The papers are all over it. This woman needs to know about her son, to get ... closure or whatever and as far as I can see there's no good reason we shouldn't be doing this.'
'Him,' Thorne said. 'He's the reason why not.'
'Like I said, we've checked dates and records and it looks like he's telling the truth.' Brigstocke walked to the corner, picked up the packet and dropped it into the bin. 'He was definitely there when he says he was and that was the last time anybody saw this missing boy.'
Thorne pushed himself back towards the bed. 'He never does a single thing that he doesn't want to do. That he doesn't have a very good reason to do.' He eased himself gingerly out of the chair and on to the bed, waving away Brigstocke's offer of help and staring at him, hard.
* * *
'So, what do you reckon?' Holland asked now. He unfastened his seat-belt, turned and reached into the row of seats behind for his overcoat and gloves. 'A couple of days?'
'Yeah,' Thorne said. A couple of days until they found the body or it became clear they were being taken for idiots. He reached back for his own coat, for the case containing all the paperwork. 'With a bit of luck.'
'Nice to get out of London,' Holland said.
'I mean, obviously I wish we were doing something a bit less ... you know.'
You want the good news or the bad news?
In Brigstocke's office at Becke House, the day after Thorne had been discharged from hospital. The arrangements already being made, the permissions and protocols put in place.
The argument continuing.
'Let's go over these "conditions" again, shall we?' Thorne had thrown his leather jacket across a chair and sat leaning back against the wall. 'Just to make sure I'm totally clear on all this. You know, why he's the one making the rules.'
Brigstocke stood, walked around his desk. 'How many times?'
'I know,' Thorne said. 'The MP, the grieving mother, the barrel he's got us across.' He shook his head. 'Anything else he wants? A particular make and model of car? Something special on his sandwiches?'
'So, come on then. The stipulations ...'
'Well, you, obviously.'
'Yeah. Me.' Thorne puffed out his cheeks. 'You got any thoughts on that?' He looked up at Brigstocke, wide-eyed and mock-curious. 'I'm just wondering.'
'You're the one who caught him,' Brigstocke said. 'He's got some weird kind of respect for you or something. Maybe he trusts you.'
'He wants to mess with me,' Thorne said. 'It's what he does.'
'You're taking him out there, you're finding this body then you're bringing him back.' Brigstocke leaned against the desk. 'That's all this is.'
Thorne studied the carpet and fingered the straight scar beneath his chin for a few seconds. He said, 'What's his problem with the press?'
'He doesn't want any around, simple as that.'
'Never seemed to bother him before,' Thorne said. 'Happy enough with the books and the bloody documentaries. Got a nice collection of his press cuttings pasted up in his cell by all accounts.'
Brigstocke shrugged. 'Look, he knows they've been on to this ever since the boy's mother went to the papers. He doesn't fancy helicopters everywhere, that's all, like when they took Brady back to the moors.'
'We've let the press know it's on, which should keep them off our backs, but obviously they don't know exactly when or where.' Brigstocke began to work carefully at a torn fingernail with his teeth. 'Shouldn't be a problem as long as some friendly press officer gives them everything they want once it's done and dusted.'
'Tell me about his friend.'
Brigstocke spat out the sliver of nail. 'Well, he's saying he'll feel a lot safer if he can bring another prisoner with him. That he's less likely to have any sort of "accident". Reckons there are too many of us who won't have forgotten Sarah McEvoy.'
'That's what he's saying.'
Thorne had certainly not forgotten the police officer who had been killed during the arrest of the man whose demands they were now discussing. He remembered blood spreading across asphalt. He remembered the look of elation on the man's face, just before Thorne had forcibly wiped it off. 'So, what, then? This bloke his boyfriend, maybe?' 'Possible,' Brigstocke said.
'Well, whatever the reason is for bringing him along, I'll want everything we can find on him.'
'Obviously —' Brigstocke's phone chirruped in his pocket. He took the handset out, dropped the call then replaced it. Either the conversation could wait, or it was one he did not want Thorne to overhear. 'Look, Tom, nothing about this is run of the mill, I know that. Normal procedures will be going out of the window to a large extent. This stupid place you'll be taking him back to, for a kick-off. It's already throwing up certain ... logistical nightmares, so I'm just saying you might have to do a fair amount of thinking on your feet.'
Thorne nodded slowly and reached around for his jacket. 'I've got a few conditions of my own,' he said.
'I get to pick the rest of the team,' Thorne said, standing up. 'Not you and not the chief superintendent. And the moment me or anybody else starts to think that there's no body to be found and that he's just getting off on taking us all for mugs, I'll have him and his boyfriend banged up again before his feet have touched the ground. Fair enough?' Brigstocke opened his mouth, but Thorne hadn't finished. He was already on his way to the door. 'And I don't want to hear about how much grief the chief constable's getting from the Sun or the Daily Mail. I don't care about MPs, I don't even care about grieving mothers and I really couldn't give a toss about that sodding barrel ...'
* * *
'Jesus, it's cold,' Holland said, now. He slapped his gloved hands together as he trudged around to the front of the car. He hunched his shoulders and nodded towards the prison entrance. 'I hope somebody's got the kettle on in there.'
Thorne hummed agreement. He might even have said something about hoping so too, but in truth he could think of little beyond the reason he had risen so early after a sleepless night and watched the sun come up driving a hundred miles to Long Lartin prison. Little beyond the man who had brought him here.
They walked towards the first of many gates, footsteps ringing against the tarmac and breath pluming from mouths and noses.
The man who would be patiently waiting on the other side of that wall.
They reached for warrant cards simultaneously.
The man who put that twist in Thorne's gut.
'Here we go then,' Holland said.
Stuart Nicklin was the bad news.CHAPTER 2
There was tea and there were also biscuits in a fancy tin, which were gratefully accepted despite being offered without too much in the way of goodwill. Holland tried smiling, then felt rather stupid and grimaced at Thorne as he turned away. He carried his tea across to the small sofa at one end of the long, thin office, leaving Thorne at the desk to deal with the red tape and the woman dispensing it.
Thorne looked no happier about the situation than she did.
The demeanour and attitude of Long Lartin's deputy governor could most generously be described as businesslike, but Thorne felt sure that both prisoners and prison officers had a different word for it. On top of the fact that she was not what anyone would call 'touchy-feely', it quickly became apparent that Theresa Colquhoun was in no hurry. She had been tasked by the governor with completing the formalities necessary for a prisoner handover. This meant a good many forms to fill in. It meant risk assessment statements to be completed and 'handover protocol' guidance notes to be distributed and carefully read through. She had reservations about what had been agreed on this occasion between the Met and Her Majesty's Prison Service and had told Thorne exactly what she thought while she'd poured the tea. Nonetheless, she was determined to carry out the job with a rigour which, to Thorne's eye, bordered on compulsion.
'This business is iffy enough as it is,' she said. She tapped a manicured fingernail against the photograph of Stuart Nicklin clipped to the top of a file. 'We don't want to make a mistake before we've even started, do we?'
Colquhoun was somewhere at the fag-end of her fifties. She was tall and angular and had seemingly done her best to avoid anything that might have softened her appearance. Her greying hair was fastened tightly back and her make-up was severe. Only her voice was at odds with the impression she wanted – or thought she ought – to create. There was almost no colour in it, and she spoke so quietly Thorne had twice needed to ask her to repeat herself.
Not that the conversation was exactly sparkling.
The completion of each set of forms – one for each of the prisoners – was celebrated with a short break for chit-chat. Specifically, one inane enquiry after another about the journey Thorne and Holland had made from London that morning. The route, the weight of traffic, the weather conditions at various stages.
Then back to the task in hand.
She said, 'Even when these prisoners have been handed into your care and are off the grounds of Long Lartin, they will still be prisoners and as such will remain my legal responsibility. I don't need to tell you I'd rather they were returned here at the end of each day, but as the geography would seem to make that impossible, they will need to be escorted to a designated facility.'
'You don't need to tell me, but you did,' Thorne said.
'As I said, best to get things clear at the outset.'
'We'll look after them.'
Colquhoun had just begun talking about procedures in the event of a prisoner being taken ill, when the message alert sounded on Holland's phone. She stared at him, like an irritated librarian.
Holland checked his message. Said, 'Back-up car's here.'
'Tell them we shouldn't be long,' Thorne said, eyes on the deputy governor.
Though he was hardly making it difficult for her, Colquhoun could sense Thorne's growing impatience, his desire to get on his way. 'My officers are busy getting the prisoners prepared,' she said. She smiled, showing no teeth, and began straightening papers. 'For obvious reasons, we only informed them that the handover was taking place today at the very last minute.'
'Right,' Thorne said.
'Obviously, it would be lovely if they were all prepped and ready for you in advance, but that would rather compromise security, don't you think?'
'Obviously ... '
What Thorne had actually been thinking for several weeks now was that security protocols such as this one were little more than a challenge for the likes of Stuart Nicklin. It made sense of course that prisoners should not be given the chance to pass on details of the time they would be spending outside prison to anyone else. But it was not a fool-proof system at the best of times and Nicklin was no ordinary prisoner. Over the years he had spent inside, he had demonstrated an alarming ability to gather information. To foster any number of sources on whom he could call when the moment was right.
The last time Thorne had seen him, five years before, Nicklin had gleefully advised him to shop around for his utilities and to keep an eye on his overdraft. He'd told him that he might want to think about cutting down on takeaways.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Bones Beneath"
Copyright © 2014 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next book in Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne series - especially after the way the eleventh book, The Dying Hours, ended. The Bones Beneath picks up six weeks after The Dying Hours. (New readers, you certainly could certainly read this book without having read others, but I highly encourage you to start with the first book, Sleepyhead. Trust me - you'll be hooked.) I adore prologues that immediately hook the reader. In the opening pages of The Bones Beneath, an unnamed man is kidnapped from his home..... And then immediately the story cuts to Thorne. I wondered many times what this unnamed man had to do with the plot. There are a few short chapters that cut to his timeline, but I was still scratching my head until the final few pages. And then it was an AHA! moment. A lovely plot twist. Back to Thorne. Fans will recognize this name - Stuart Nicklin. Psychopath Nicklin and Thorne have crossed paths before, with Tom finally putting Nicklin behind bars for good. But then Nicklin says he'll reveal where he buried the body of one of his victims - but only if Thorne is the one to escort him. Thorne reluctantly agrees, but wonders why and what Nicklin has up his sleeve. Thorne is wary - and rightly so. "He couldn't think of a single reason that didn't scare the hell out of him." Nicklin says the body is on remote Bardsey Island, off the Welsh coast. Billingham paints a very vivid picture of the island and its history. I, of course, had to check it out online - it's quite fascinating. This isolation and lack of connection with the mainland only heightens the sense of danger, of being with a madman who seems to be directing the way things will play out, even though Thorne is in charge. Billingham has created a chilling antagonist in Nicklin, one who reads people and manipulates them masterfully. Flashbacks to his time on the island as a young man only confirms how evil he truly is. And he's a planner..... Familiar supporting characters are also back - Holland is one of my favourites. I always enjoy the secondary storyline of Thorne's personal life as well. Billingham consistently comes up with dark, devious plots that hold the reader captive until the last page has been turned. (and more than a few good twists and turns) Tom Thorne has not grown predictable or tired after twelve books. He's ornery, obstinate and driven to solve his cases at almost any cost. This lands him on a fine line between right and wrong many times. In The Bones Beneath, Thorne has this sense of right and wrong sorely tested... This reader will be waiting and watching for the next book from Mark Billingham
Superb writing and insight into characters and setting.
Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series. Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur). (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.) Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation. Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders. Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago. The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered. The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop. And waiting. And waiting. Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed. And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern. It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected. It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow. My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book