Mark Billingham is one of England’s best known and top-selling crime writers. In this, the gripping ninth Tom Thorne novel, a man long thought killed by his suffering wife turns up alive. And then other people begin to turn up dead.
A decade ago, Alan Langford’s charred remains were discovered in his burnt-out car. His wife, Donna, was found guilty of conspiracy to murder her husband and sentenced to ten years in prison. But before she is released, Donna receives a nasty shock: an anonymous letter containing a photo of her husband. The man she hates with every fiber of her beingthe man she paid to have murderedseems very much alive and well. But how is it possible that her husband is not dead? Where is he? Who sent the photo, and why?
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
Anna Carpenter had eaten sushi only once before, when some bloke she'd gone out with for about five minutes had been trying to impress her, but this was her first time in one of these conveyor-belt places. She thought it was a good idea. It made sense, having the chance to look at the food before you took the plunge, and it didn't matter if you let it go by half a dozen times while you made your mind up, because it was cold anyway.
Fiendishly clever, these Japanese ...
She reached for a plate of salmon nigiri from the belt and asked the man sitting next to her if he could pass the soy sauce. He slid the bottle towards her with a smile, then offered her the pot of wasabi.
'God, no, that's the really hot stuff, isn't it?'
The man told her it was just a question of not overdoing it and she said that she'd rather not risk it, that she was something of a novice when it came to eating raw fish.
'This your lunch hour?' the man asked.
'Well, I'm my own boss, so I usually manage to sneak a bit more than an hour, if I'm honest.' He expertly plucked what looked like a small pasty from his plate and dipped it into some sauce. 'You work nearby?'
Anna nodded, her mouth full of rice, grunted a 'yes'.
'What do you do?'
She swallowed. 'Just temping,' she said. 'Trying not to die of boredom.'
A waiter appeared at her shoulder with the bottle of water she'd ordered and by the time he'd left, she and the man sitting next to her were all but strangers once more. Anna felt as awkward as he obviously did about picking up their conversation, and neither needed any condiments passing.
They ate and exchanged smiles. Glanced and looked away. A nod from one or the other when something was especially tasty.
He was in his mid-to-late thirties – ten years or so older than she was – and looked good in a shiny blue suit that probably cost as much as her car. He had a crinkly smile and had missed a bit just below his Adam's apple the last time he'd shaved. He looked like he worked out, but not too much, and she guessed he was not the sort who moisturised more often than she did.
He was still sitting next to her by the time she had finished.
'Maybe I'll be brave and try the wasabi next time,' she said.
'Sorry?' He looked round at her in mock-surprise, as though he had forgotten she was there.
Anna wasn't fooled for a second. She had been aware for the last ten minutes that he had finished eating. She'd seen the pile of empty plates next to him, watched him eke out a cup of green tea, and known very well that he was waiting for her to finish.
She leaned in close to him. 'We could go to a hotel.'
Now the surprise was genuine. He had not been expecting her to make the first move. He opened his mouth and closed it again.
'Seeing as you can sneak more than an hour.'
He nodded, but could not make eye contact with her.
'Why don't we find out how much you really like eating sushi?' It was deliberately crude, and she felt herself redden as she said it, but she could see straight away that it had done the trick.
He muttered, 'Christ!' as the crinkly smile became a stupid grin. He waved the waiter across, pointing to Anna's empty plates as well as his own to indicate that he would be paying for both of them.
The hotel was a five-minute walk away. Tucked behind Kingsway and within conveniently easy reach of Holborn Tube Station and a well-stocked chemist. A notch or two up from a Travelodge without being silly money.
He took out his wallet as they approached the reception desk.
'I'm not a hooker,' Anna said.
'I know that.'
'I'm perfectly happy to pay my share of the room.'
'Look, it's not a problem,' he said. 'You said you were temping, so ...'
'Fine, whatever.' She caught the eye of the young man behind the desk. He nodded politely, then looked away, sensing he should not show any sign that he had seen her before. 'If you want to be flash, you can order us a bottle of something,' Anna said, then turned and walked across the lobby.
In the lift, he finally asked her name.
She shook her head. 'Ingrid ... Angelina ... Michelle. Whatever turns you on the most. It's more exciting that way.' She closed her eyes and moaned softly as his hand moved to stroke her backside.
As the lift juddered to a halt at the first floor, he said, 'My name's Kevin.'
The room was larger than she had been expecting – a decent-sized double – and she guessed that he had splashed out, which made her feel oddly sorry for him.
'Nice,' he said, slipping off his jacket.
She headed straight for the bathroom. 'Give me a minute,' she said.
She sent the text while she was using the toilet, then stood in front of the mirror and wiped away the excess make-up. She could hear him moving around on the other side of the door, heard the bedsprings creak and imagined him pushing down on the mattress, testing it out like some sitcom gigolo, with that grin still plastered to his face.
When she came out, he was sitting on the edge of the bed in his boxer shorts, his hands in his lap.
'Where's that sushi, then?' he asked.
'Aren't we going to have a drink first?'
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door and he nodded towards it. 'They didn't have champagne,' he said. 'So I got some sparkling wine. It's more or less the same price, actually ...'
Anna moved quickly to the door and opened it, then turned and saw Kevin's face whiten and fall when his wife stepped into the room.
'Oh, shit,' he said, one hand still covering the rapidly dwindling erection, while the other scrabbled for shirt and trousers.
The woman watched him from the doorway, clutched her handbag to her stomach. Said, 'You sad wanker.'
'She picked me up, for heaven's sake.' He jabbed a finger in Anna's direction. 'I was just having my bloody lunch, and this ... tart ...'
'I know,' his wife said. 'And she had to drag you here kicking and screaming, right?'
'I can't believe you did this. That you set this up.'
'What, you can't believe I didn't trust you?'
Anna tried to squeeze past the man's wife towards the door. 'I'd better get out of your way.'
The woman nodded quickly and stood aside. 'The money's already gone into your firm's account,' she said.
'Right, thanks ...'
'You bitch,' Kevin shouted. He was still struggling to yank his trousers on and almost tumbled, bracing himself against a chest of drawers.
Anna opened the door.
'And don't flatter yourself either, love. It was only because it was on offer.'
The wife had tears in her eyes, but still managed a look that was somewhere between pity and rage. It seemed to Anna that both were aimed as much at her as at the woman's husband.
'I'll leave you to it,' Anna said.
She stepped quickly into the corridor as Kevin began shouting again, and winced as the door slammed shut behind her. She walked quickly past the lift and took the stairs down to the lobby two at a time.
Tried not to think of his face and his pale, hairless body and the things he must have thought they were going to do.
The words he'd shouted after her.
'You're kidding yourself, love,' he'd said. 'If you think you're not a hooker.'
On the tube back to Victoria, Anna picked up a tattered Metro and tried to read. Did her best not to think about her afternoon's work.
You're kidding yourself ...
She knew that the man whose marriage she had probably screwed up was bang on the money in more ways than one; that almost everything about what she was doing was wrong. She'd seen some of the flashier websites and knew how the bigger and better agencies handled the more radical end of 'specialist matrimonial investigations'. There were always at least two investigators involved in any honey-trap operation. The well-being and safety of the investigator were always put first. There were hidden cameras and microphones and pre-arranged secret signals.
She could see the sneer on Frank's face; hear his gravelly voice thick with sarcasm.
'So, why don't you sod off and work for one of the bigger and better agencies, then?'
She imagined herself calmly dishing it right back. Blithely announcing that one of these days she just might do exactly that. The truth was, though, even if she had walked into that sushi restaurant with armed back-up, a concealed tape-recorder and a pen that squirted acid hidden in her knickers, she would not have felt any better about what she was doing.
The direction her life was taking.
Money might have helped a little, might have eased her discomfort, but there was not a great deal of that, either. In one of those rare moments when Frank Anderson had not been angry or pissed or unreasonably vituperative, he had sat Anna down and tried to explain the financial situation.
'I'd love to pay you a bit more,' he had said, sounding almost, just for a second or two, as though he meant it. 'I'd love to, but look around. Everything's gone tits up in specialist services like ours and this credit crunch is biting us all in the arse. You understand?'
Anna had considered reminding Frank that she had a good economics degree, but guessed where the conversation would end.
'So, why don't you sod off back to that flashy bank, then?'
That was a tricky question to answer.
Because you promised me things. Because I thought this would be a challenge. Because I was bored stupid playing with other people's money and you told me that if there was one job that was never predictable, that was always interesting, it was this one.
Because going back means giving up.
Anna thought back to the day she'd phoned F.A. Investigations, excited about the ad she'd seen in the local paper; keen as mustard and green as grass. Eighteen months and a lifetime ago. What the hell had she thought she was doing, walking out on a well-paid job, on friends and colleagues, for ... this?
Ten pounds an hour to make tea and keep Frank's accounts in order. To answer the phone and come on to men who couldn't keep it in their pants.
And yet, despite the way things had panned out, Anna knew that her instincts had been right, that there had been nothing wrong with her ambition. How many people were stuck, too afraid to make a change, however much they yearned for it?
How many settled for jobs, partners, lives?
She had wanted something different, that was all. She had thought that in helping other people she would help herself. That, at the very least, it would stop her turning into one of those hard-faced City bitches who click-clacked past her all day long in their Jimmy Choos. And, yes, she had thought it might be a little more exciting than futures and sodding hedge funds.
Same as she had been when she picked up the leaflet about joining the army, or when she'd thought about a career in the police force for all of five minutes. A year and a half ago, several of her friends had described her radical career shift from banker to private detective as 'brave'. 'Braver than me,' Angie, a triage nurse, had said. Rob, a teacher in a rough north London school, had nodded his agreement. Anna had suspected they really meant 'stupid', but she had relished the compliment all the same.
A soldier, though? A copper? Certainly not brave enough for that ...
Anna stood as the train pulled into Victoria and caught the eye of the woman who had been sitting opposite. She tried to summon a smile but had to look away, convinced suddenly and for no good reason that the woman had got the measure of her. Could see what she was.
She felt over-wound and light-headed as the escalator carried her up towards the street; desperate now to get back to the office and change. She wanted to get out of the stupid heels she was click-clacking around in and back into her trainers. She wanted the day to end and the dark to wrap itself around her. She wanted to drink and sleep. It wasn't until she got to the ticket barrier and fumbled for her Oyster card that she realised she had a torn page of the Metro crushed into her fist.
The office was wedged between a dry-cleaner's and a betting shop; a cracked brown door with dirty glass. As Anna was reaching into her handbag for the keys, a woman who had been hovering at the kerb walked towards her. Forty-odd, and something fierce in her eyes.
Anna backed off half a step. Got ready to say 'no'. The typical London response.
'Are you a detective?' the woman asked.
Anna just stared. No, not fierce, she thought. Desperate.
'I saw your ad, and I need a bit of help with something, so ...'
There was no light visible through the glass, and Anna guessed that Frank's lunchtime drink had turned into several. He would have diverted any calls for F.A. Investigations to his mobile and would almost certainly not be back for the rest of the afternoon.
'Yes,' Anna said. 'I am.' She took out her keys and stepped towards the door. 'Come on up.'CHAPTER 2
Had they been sitting side by side or staring at each other across the table in an interview room, the crucial difference between the two men might not have been obvious. Not to the casual observer, at any rate. Had one not been standing in a dock and the other in the witness box, it would have been tough to tell cop from killer.
Both were wearing suits and looking unhappy about the fact. Both stood reasonably still and, for the most part, stared straight ahead. Both seemed collected enough and, although only one was talking, both gave the impression, if you searched their expressions for more than a few moments, that there was plenty going on behind the façade of unflappable calm.
Both looked dangerous.
The man on the witness stand was well into his forties: stocky and round-shouldered, with dark hair that was greying a little more on one side than the other. He spoke slowly. He took care to say no more than he needed to as he gave his evidence, choosing his words carefully, but without letting that care look like doubt or hesitation.
'And there was no question in your mind that you were dealing with a murder?'
'No question whatsoever.'
'You have told us that the defendant was "relaxed" when he was first interviewed. Did his demeanour change when you questioned him subsequent to his arrest?'
As Detective Inspector Tom Thorne described the five separate interviews he had conducted with the man on trial, he did his best to keep his eyes fixed on the prosecuting counsel. But he could not quite manage it. Two or three times, he glanced across at the dock to see Adam Chambers staring right back at him; the eyes flat, unblinking. Once, he looked up for a few seconds to the public gallery, where the family of the young woman Chambers had murdered was gathered. He saw the hope and the rage in the faces of Andrea Keane's parents. The hands that clutched at those of others, or lay trembling in laps, wrapped tight around wads of damp tissue.
Thorne saw a group of people united in their grief and anger, and for whom justice – should it be meted out to their satisfaction – would be real and raw. Justice, of a sort, for an eighteen-year-old girl who Thorne knew beyond any doubt to be dead.
Despite the fact that no body had ever been found.
His voice stayed calm as he finished his testimony, reiterating dates and times, names and places: those details he hoped would linger in the minds of the jurors; combining to do their job as effectively as those precious, damning strands of blonde hair, the lies exposed by a mobile-phone record, and the smiling face of a girl in a photograph, taken days before she was killed.
'Thank you, Inspector. You may stand down.'
Thorne slipped his notebook back into the pocket of his jacket and stepped from the witness box. He walked slowly towards the rear doors of the courtroom, a fingertip moving back and forth across the small, straight scar on his chin. Eyes moving too, as he drew closer, towards the figure in the dock.
I don't want to see you again ...
Not in the flesh, obviously not that, because you'll be banged up, thank God, and growing old. Watching your back and feeling that great big brain of yours turn to mush and staying on the right side of men who'd be happy to carve you up for looking at them funny. Because of what you are. I don't want to see you at night, I mean. Hanging around where you're not wanted and messing with me. Your smug face and your croaky 'no comment' dancing into my dreams ...
As he passed beneath the dock, Thorne turned his face towards Adam Chambers. He paused for a second or two. He found the man's eyes, and he held them.
Then he winked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "From The Dead"
Copyright © 2010 Mark Billingham.
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
4 1/2 stars, completed 6/18,9th book in series, 9th I've read.3/4 of the way thru I was to score this a 4 or lower. This is a bit slimmer than the usual, almost seemed like he was going thru the motions. And a good and interesting character is killed, which got the author off the hook of how to separate this character from the book - but I still don't think the murder was necessary nor enhancing to the storyline in any way. There were two stories simultaneously and it appeared one might be resolved in a future book, but it ended with an unexpected and very satisfying twist, involving what appeared to be someone wrongly accused of murder. Then the "main" story wrapped up - it was about a woman who went to jail for hiring a killer to burn her husband to death in his car. Soon after she is released from jail, she starts to receive current photos of guess who. AND the cop who sent her to jail (guess who) is back on the case, trying to resolve the photo mystery.
This is my first Mark Billingham novel and my first in the Tom Thorne series so I have not read the collection in order. However, that did not detract from the storyline in any way. The book caught my attention in the shop as I recognised the name of the author from the recent TV adaption on Sky1. I like how Thorne is impatient, grumpy, annoying and has faults, rather unlike some the American super-cops you often find in fiction novels. I have to say that some of the twists I did not see coming, and some of the characters that I suspected to be the 'bad guy' turned out not to be, which was a good surprise and made this book even more enjoyable. I will certainly be collecting the remainder of the series, hopefully in order this time!
This story has well developed characters and believable plot. Lots of twists and turns and great slang for Brit nostalgia. Absolutely worth time reading.