Review | Good as Dead, Mark Billingham

Shop owner Akhtar takes police officer Helen Weeks and a civilian hostage. His demand: that DI Tom Thorne investigate the apparent suicide of his son in prison, which Akhtar believes is a murder. Mark Billingham’s Good as Dead is a fast-paced mystery and an exciting read. It’s my first Tom Thorne book, as well as the first time I’ve heard of the Thorne TV series. I hope the TV show will be aired in Canada; it looks really interesting.

I had zero sympathy for Akhtar. I’m sure that’s partly because I just finished the deeply disturbing Into the Darkest Corner, and because of the recent real-life body parts case and Eaton centre shooting, all of which make me especially angry at people who use violence to ruin the lives of innocents. So Akhtar believes his son was murdered, and that the justice system failed his family. That in no way justifies, to any extent, his threatening the lives of two innocent people. While I understand that Thorne’s race to find out the truth about Akhtar’s son is motivated by his desire to see the hostages safe, a part of me hoped that it would turn out that the son had committed suicide after all, and that Akhtar realizes how pointless his drama is.

To Billingham’s credit, he also holds back on whatever sympathy he has for Akhtar. Rather, he emphasizes Helen’s concern over her one year old son, and the other hostage’s hysterical focus on his missing a meeting regarding his promotion at work. Even when Helen chooses to hide information from the police trying to rescue her, it’s not because of Stockholm syndrome, but rather because she wants to survive to see her baby again. Her decision seemed more like a convenient dramatic device to keep the story going rather than the smart choice, but I like that Billingham explained her reasoning behind it. I also like the scenes where Akhtar’s wife confronts him — Thorne reasons that in any couple in crisis, at least one of them has to remain strong. In the case of Akhtar’s wife, she couldn’t afford to fall apart, because someone has to take care of the other kids in the family. I like her as a character, and felt sorry for what she must be going through, first with her son, and now with her husband.

I have no sympathy for Akhtar, but his son did get a pretty raw deal. Billingham takes us into the son’s life, and the real reasons behind his imprisonment. It’s not a pretty story, and Billingham reveals a harsh, tragic type of party scene, where it’s so easy for boys like Akhtar’s son to get in way over their heads.

Good as Dead is a pretty solid, entertaining thriller. Nothing that particularly made me want to read all the other Tom Thorne novels, but definitely a good read for the weekend or an afternoon at the beach.

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One thought on “Review | Good as Dead, Mark Billingham

  1. I’ve only read one of Billingham’s books, which I picked up after seeing him speak here at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I found it quite solid as a crime novel (I’m not usually a crime fan), but I found it a bit too gritty and noirish for my tastes.

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