Cry Baby by Mark Billingham

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Cry Baby by Mark Billingham

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's the 17th book in the series but is a prequel set in 1996. It was refreshing to read a police procedural which wasn't dominated by CCTV, ANPR and the like. A great read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: July 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408712412

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Longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021

It's June 1996 and football's European Championships are about to start in London. DS Tom Thorne is having a nightmare and it's one he has regularly. It relates to a case from ten years earlier when he knew that a man was guilty, but didn't take any action until the man's wife and three children had been murdered and the man had killed himself.

Cat Coyne and Maria Ashton are with their sons Kieron and Josh. It's a happy combination in that the boys are devoted to each other and - despite differences in the where and how they live - the women are best friends. The boys are seven-years old and they play on the swings in the park and then dash off to play hide and seek in Highgate Wood. Josh was the one doing the hiding - but he returned tearfully to the women: Kieron never came to find him and now he can't find Kieron.

DS Tom Thorne is on the case and struggling to cope with his boss, DI Gordon Boyle. The feeling's mutual and it's exacerbated by DC Ajay Roth who seems to be Boyle's only fan in the team. DS Paula Kimmel's another outsider: she's the only member of the team without a penis. As the investigation gets underway there's a feeling that the team isn't really pulling together and it's fairly obvious that Boyle thinks they're looking for a body. It's Thorne who bags the first suspect: Grantleigh Figgis is Cat Coyne's neighbour and no one would describe him as anything other than strange.

There's a complication for Cat Coyne: her partner is Billy Coyne is currently staying in one of Her Majesty's guest houses after a spot of road rage and attempted murder. Does he have anything to do with Kieron's disappearance? His sister, Angie Coyne, is doing her best to support Cat and says that she's warned her brother not to hurt anyone, but it's not unknown for this sort of thing to happen. Something which is obvious though is that Josh Ashton is not coping at all well with his best friend's disappearance. His parents are separated and even when he spends time with his father, who's a doctor, he doesn't improve. He's violent to other pupils at school and it looks as though he's going to need psychiatric help.

It was unexpectedly refreshing to spend time in a police procedural which wasn't dominated by CCTV, ANPR and mobile phones. I'm increasingly finding that the human side of investigation is being bred out of current police procedurals and there's less room for that brilliant hunch from the pathologist (you'll recognise him if you've read books set later in the series) which turned everything around. I was doubtful when I heard that the book would be set in 1996 - and even more worried when I realised that there would be a football background - but it worked perfectly.

The characters are excellent too. Some of them we know from other books in the series, but even the newcomers work well. The combination of Cat Coyne (lives in a highrise, partner in prison) and Maria Ashton (lives in a comfortable home and isn't short of money) shouldn't work as well as it does, but Mark Billingham catches it well, even down to the point when the relationship looks as though it will founder. I loved the two boys: genuine best friends who adore each other and hate being parted. But Cat was the star for me: grieving from the loss of Kieron, struggling on her own, capable of unwise decisions and actions and completely human with her knee-jerk, smartarse comments.

Did I guess who was responsible for the abduction of Kieran Coyne and the two murders which followed? No, I didn't. Both came as a complete surprise, although all the clues were there. It was a cracking read and despite my initial misgivings I really enjoyed it. I'd like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag have a review copy.

You could start to read the series at the beginning now that you've read the prequel, or if you'd like something else to read about crime in London, we can recommend Shed No Tears by Caz Frear and The Body Under the Bridge by Nick Louth.

Mark Billingham's D I Tom Thorne Novels in Chronological Order

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