Crime Watch is currently undergoing a renovation and upgrade, and as part of that ongoing process, a month ago I debuted "First Tastes", a new series which will take a look each fortnight at novels where some terrific authors first introduced their series protagonist. One of the many things that makes crime fiction great is the myriad of fascinating characters in the genre, and the way in which we, as readers, can follow characters we love and loathe over a series of tales, rather than just one-off stories.
This will be a series with plenty of guest bloggers, and today I have the pleasure to introduce Linda Lee, an avid crime fiction reader who is the driving force behind Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton having such a strong crime and thriller component, including visits from international authors. Linda is taking a look at the first appearance of one of her very favourite crime characters, Mark Billingham's Detective Inspector Tom Thorne (played by David Morrissey in the TV adaptation, see pic below). Enjoy!
by Linda Lee
Way back in 2001, I was given a debut novel by one of my book reps, and told I must try this new author, I would like it. The book was SLEEPYHEAD by Mark Billingham, and I didn't like it, I loved it.
So began my love affair with the fictional character of DI Tom Thorne. I had been reading crime novels for a long while yet I had not come across writing such as Mark Billingham’s where the characters interacted in such a way. Mark is a stand-up comedian and this reflected in the dialogue between the characters. Lots of humour and leg pulling.
Sleepyhead focuses on a serial killer who is trying to get his victims into an almost suspended state where they can see and hear everything that is going on around them but cannot move an inch. The first three victims are found dead but the fourth victim is discovered in this state. Thorne at first thinks this girl found alive is the killer’s first mistake, but soon comes to the realisation that she is the first one that the killer has got right.
Knowing that police procedure won’t catch this killer, Tom goes outside the law (as he does in most of the subsequent books) and relying on gut instinct sets about to catch this madman. As with most of Mark’s novels, this one is set in and around London, and features real places, restaurants etc.
Each subsequent novel peels away another layer of Thorne (41 years’ old in the first book) and it has been a pleasure learning about him, from his beautiful relationship with his father to his often ill-chosen love life, his relationship with his co-workers and his peers. His love of country music, namely Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Emmylou Harris, and penchant for curries from the Bengal Lancer. He is not an alcoholic, a chain smoker, nor has he a missing limb, carry excess weight or have a miserable married life, but he does carry the scars of previous cases with him. It is no small surprise that SLEEPYHEAD became the biggest selling British debut that year.
I have met Mark Billingham on several occasions and it is easy to see some of Thorne's traits in the author. They both love the same music, and both loathe the same singers (who will remain nameless here). But really they are worlds’ apart, which is good as it would be a bit creepy to fancy Mark too!
Have you read SLEEPYHEAD or any of the other Tom Thorne novels? Have you watched the TV series? What do you think of the character on page or screen?