Good As Dead
by Mark Billingham
It's not hedging too many bets to say a maverick detective is irresistible - and there's none better than the world-weary, body- abusing, rule-breaking policeman Tom Thorne.
In case the name fails to impress, author, actor and stand-up comic Mark Billingham received the 2003 Sherlock Award for creating fiction's best detective in Thorne - among other novel trophies. And yes, he did the screenplay for the TV series starring David Morrissey
Good As Dead's plot is a veritable express train and every time you think it might slow for a station stop, it shoots around a new corner and picks up speed instead.
The book begins innocently enough, with busy mum and policewoman Helen Weeks calling into her local newsagent one morning on her way to work. But before you can say "Packet of fags and the local paper please", she's at gunpoint and being held hostage.
It turns out this is not a random act. The chain of events that is triggered that morning had actually begun months previously when a teenager died while in custody. His father believes the tragedy was actually murder. Thorne has to find out the truth of the boy's death and he has to do it quickly. He's up against the clock and if he loses, it's going to cost at least two lives.
The urgency of the telling, the nagging ticking of the clock, the frustrations of red-tape policing (so satisfyingly ignored by Thorne), the unexpected twists of the plot caused by human error - and more often simply by the human condition - are utterly convincing. Just short of 400 pages, this cracking detective crime novel demands to be read at one sitting - you're on the marathon detective race side by side with our hero - and a few deaths along the way ramp up the tension.
I imagine if James Bond and Tom Thorne were propping up a fictional bar somewhere in London, and Bond had loosened up sufficiently after a few shaken martinis, he might well lean across to Thorne, who's reflectively sipping his pint, and say: "You know, old chap, nobody does it better."