Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
FROM THE DEAD is ninth and latest in Mark Billingham’s Inspector Tom Thorne series. Thorne still has friends such as the pathologist Phil Hendricks, who can remind him of the black humour of their jobs while goading him that he has never been promoted during their friendship. Thorne, though, is not a man with much sense of humour to get him through the everyday, so events such as a rape-murder trial ending in a non-conviction are bad enough.
Worse is to be approached by a young woman trying to escape into real detective work from her job as a honey-trap for divorce cases who discloses that a man thought to have died in a car fire ten years before is still alive. The young detective has been hired by the man’s former wife, just freed from a ten year sentence for conspiracy to murder.
True, the widow had hired a hit man to murder her husband, and probably true, too, that if someone else had been killed in his place she would still have been guilty. Unfortunately, some of us would feel pity for the poor being handcuffed in a car when it was set on fire, and some of us would want to know who he was. Tom Thorne feels that.
As we swap to somewhere abroad and follow a man who has had plastic surgery and a spot of hair colour, guessing whether or not he really died in Epping Forest, is only a small part of the book. More elaborate questions come into play – what has the hired killer done in the last ten years, who has been protecting him, who has been protecting the protectors? And who, now, is removing that protection? Only slowly does Thorne realise the extent of today’s conspiracy, tracking it to Spain via the original evidence given to Anna Carpenter, the sometime honey-trap detective: photographs sent anonymously to the widow.
In some ways the book is a tontine of death: it almost becomes a case of who will die next, and whose death will surprise us next? As Thorne’s investigations continue, so those deaths continue, with Thorne occasionally discovering the reasons why they had to die. Things grow worse, indeed move to their climax as the reason becomes closer to Thorne himself. And in parallel, death comes closer to the “dead” man as those goading photographs are posted home: who could have made him smile as they were taken?
FROM THE DEAD keeps up a fascinating mystery, suspense tightening, and figures falling. There are few clichés along the way – a dubious informer who meets in pornographic bookshops, envelopes thrown away not once but repeatedly so losing any forensic evidence, a character who has to shave twice a day (a good characterisation when I first read it in Ian Fleming), not to mention some dubious knowledge of the law by the police (two coppers talking in Spain think they are bound by PACE, which does not apply outside England, not even in Scotland, as I once learned from Inspector Resnick). However, with all the other monsters against whom Tom Thorne is fighting, you might never notice. You’ll be too terrified of what is coming next.