The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham

Genre: Mystery, Crime Fiction
Series: #4 in the Tom Thorne series
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 354
Source: Library

The Short Version:
An old crime that was supposedly solved is now in question and may also be connected to one of the major players in a current organized crime war.

Why I Read It:
I’m still working on getting caught up with this series before Bloodline comes out in mid July and although I’m going to have to step up my pace a bit that’s not a problem because it’s a great series.

The Book
Twenty years ago fifteen year old Jessica Clarke was set on fire. Despite a confession and conviction that case has continued to haunt former detective Carol Chamberlain. She has been called back from retirement to work on cold cases and her last one led to a friendship with Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. When Carol starts receiving odd phone calls that seem to be related to the Jessica Clarke case she asks Thorne to help her find out what is going on and why someone is dredging up this case just as the confessed attacker is due to be released from prison.

Thorne is already overworked and less than overjoyed to have his team working a special joint assignment that involves reporting to a man that Thorne has clashed with in the past. An apparent escalation in organized crime rivalries has the body count of both known criminals and innocents rising. Things are tense both in and out of the police headquarters.

When a connection arises between the old case and the players in the current turf war, Thorne is in the middle. He wants to proceed with the investigation of Carol’s cold case without making it part of his current special assignment. Once again, his issues with following the procedure manual manage to make things just that much more complicated.

My Thoughts:
The mixture of the old case that was solved yet now perhaps in question and the new troubles between organized crime groups makes for an interesting and intricate story.

Thorne’s recurring issues with his bosses becomes almost as much of the story as the main story lines of Jessica Clarke’s case and the current gang turf war. The reappearance of a former enemy in DCI Tughan only makes Thorne’s less than cooperative tendencies even more pronounced. The continuing references to the official Murder Investigation Manual underscore the fact that Thorne is not an adherent to procedure.

Truth is elusive in this one. The suspects are lying, the investigators are not being completely truthful with each other and as a result my expectation of what would happen next continually changed as the real truth was unearthed a little bit at a time.

Amid the violence of the current killings, the story of a gentle innocent girl who was horribly burned is told through both flashbacks and her journal given to Thorne by the girl’s father. The reasons behind that crime make it only more horrifying and as the people behind it continue their lives twenty years later it becomes a piece of the puzzle in the current investigation.

Before it all plays out, however Tom Thorne takes things further outside the bounds of normal investigation than he’s gone before. He makes some serious mistakes and they’re not limited to his job performance.

As I’ve said before, Thorne is a great character. He’s messed up and his personal life is even more of a mess than his professional life most of the time. Despite that, he’s a guy I like and want to see find his way both professionally and personally. In this book the bigger focus seems to be on Thorne’s troubles at work, but the troubles in his personal life are not left out and by the end it’s a toss up as to which side of his life is the most messed up. I’m definitely looking forward to see where the next book in the series takes Thorne because he’s in a pretty deep downturn right now.

I’m not minding at all that I need to read the next in the series pretty soon in order to be ready for Bloodline in July.

Rating 4/5