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Book reviews

February 2024

The Last Dance by Mark Billingham

This is probably not a book to read on the top deck of the bus or on the 09:34 to Chipping Sodbury, if you don't want to turn heads.

If I had a quid for every time I laughed out loud in the privacy of my own home while reading The Last Dance, the novel would have paid for itself many times over. And yet as a story about murders, psychology, dance, gangland intrigue - oh, and pet rats - it's by no means a comedy.

The Last Dance

Billingham has managed to produce a rare mix of the dramatic and the highly and frequently witty, in a narrative that keeps us wondering; and, another aspect that I personally find attractive, a non-complex plot. Too often over the last few years I've found myself having to take notes to remind myself who is related to whom, who met whom where, who has a history of violence and who is the person who seems least likely to have "dunnit".

For all these reasons I felt much empathy with our hero DS Declan Miller and his professional colleague DS Xiu (whose patient endurance of Miller's often hilarious witticisms, by the way, in itself stimulates curiosity). The plot is fairly straightforward, beginning with the return to work of our grieving hero being confronted with the task of investigating a double murder in a seaside hotel. From that initial scene-setting springs a series of well-crafted episodes, lines of enquiry and well-drawn characters. This is a novelist at the top of his quite distinctive game.

Interestingly, The Last Dance introduces us to Miller. We're promised that this will be the first in a new series. The author has a well-established track record that suggests it will be a long and successful series.

Having not been familiar with his work previously, I did some digging. In a career that has encompassed acting, stand-up, TV adaptations of his output and podcasting, multi-award-winning Billingham as a novelist is best known for his series of crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Born on July 2nd, 1961, in Solihull, West Midlands, he started off in the entertainment industry as an actor and stand-up comedian, before transitioning to writing. His first novel, "Sleepyhead," was published in 2001 and introduced readers to DI Tom Thorne. This novel was a significant success and marked the beginning of a series that would earn Billingham widespread acclaim in the crime fiction genre.

The DI Tom Thorne series combines gripping plots, complex character development and a deep understanding of the psychological aspects of crime. Billingham's experience in the entertainment industry has contributed to his engaging story-telling style, characterised by suspenseful narratives and sharp wit. Over the years, the series has grown in popularity, with several of the books being adapted for television.

In addition to the Thorne series, Billingham has written standalone novels, short stories and works in collaboration with other writers. He has also ventured into young adult fiction under a pseudonym. His writing is not only popular among readers but has also been recognised with numerous awards and nominations, including the Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards.

Billingham's work reflects his keen interest in the intricacies of criminal investigation and human psychology, making his books compelling for a wide audience.

With the promise of this new Miller series, he continues to be an influential figure in British crime literature, contributing to its evolution with each new work. His career demonstrates a commitment to exploring the dark aspects of society through the lens of crime fiction, making him a prominent voice in the genre ...


Buy The Last Dance by Mark Billingham on Amazon


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