Book reviewer Andrew Rumbles checks out Good as Dead by Mark Billingham and King of the Badgers by Philip Henscher.
Good as Dead
Billingham is one of the big names in crime fiction. His cops are human and focussed on doing their jobs well. In this story, a visit to a convenience store by a police woman quickly becomes a crisis as the store owner pulls a gun and takes Helen and another customer hostage. Mr Akhtar’s son was taken into custody a year ago and the investigations have determined his death eight weeks ago was suicide. This resolution is not acceptable to this father. In his heart it does not ring true with the son he knew.
The response by the police gets complicated when Mr Akhtar insists that DI Thorne must investigate what really happened. Time is against him as the hostage situation gets more and more tense. Slowly but surely Thorne digs through the known facts trying to unearth the truth of what happened in the youth institution that young Amin was held in. What led up to the crime he went down for? Was he really guilty? Why was he in the area? And the big question is why and how did he actually die? A key part of this story is young Amin’s sexuality. His parents’ knowledge or lack of knowledge of his life typifies most families. The depraved lives lead by the adults in the world he is growing up in have not made his life an easy one.
The plot develops steadily. Thorne has been in previous Billingham novels; however, familiarity with previous books is unnecessary to enjoy this one. There are plenty of twists and personal connections to flesh out this novel and they all add together to make it a very enjoyable read.
King of the Badgers
Hanmouth, Devon is an English village where the town’s inhabitants are happily living their daily lives. In the interests of civic safety they have agreed to install CCTV. As the story unfolds we also see their lives from the inside and all is not what it always appears to be.
Why is Sylvie making collages out of penises cut from magazines? Why is the Brigadier’s wife always so chipper? What makes the new couple in town think they will fit in? Will their son enjoy his visit and who is his new friend? Do Miranda and Kenyon know each other, let alone their crazy daughter, Heidi? And why do the people on the neighbouring council estate have to call their suburb Hanmouth, when it quite obviously really isn’t?
And pervading the novel throughout is Mr John Calvin’s insistence that Neighbourhood Watch keeps authorising more cameras. A mix of motivations and intentions all slowly build to create a quirky picture of what really is going on.
The biggest surprise to me was the in your face gay sex party that is hosted for the Bears by local cheese shop owner Sam and his boyfriend Harry or “Lord, what a waste”. It does circumspectly take place behind the tightly closed curtains. Throughout the novel one character remains distinctly unknown. She is young China, a girl from the other Hanmouth who disappears and even the CCTV footage doesn’t seem able to help.
This is a slow moving, beautifully written novel. Enjoy it for its language and what it does and doesn’t tell you. Its journey may be more enjoyable for you than its destination.