A killer who believes he has lost everything has no fear of being caught. A grieving man, this new killer has decided sending pictures with a text message to D.I. Tom Thorne's mobile phone are the best bet to draw the policeman's attention, operating presumably on the premise that a picture speaks a thousand words. A dead body usually looks like a dead body so the deed has already been done, but Thorne has no idea who the victim might be. Thorne and his homicide team aren't about to squabble about patch divisions with fellow branches of the Metropolitan police but this fledgling investigation seems to have already far too many hands in the jar. Sharing a healthy respect and distrust of eager investigative beavers, Thorne is more than keen to bring this killer in. This killer has something to say, and the message is in his choice of victims.
Newly released from prison, Marcus Brooks is wasting no time on easing back into society. With his girlfriend and child having been murdered just prior to the end of his sentence, Brooks knows there is only one path he needs to follow. Thorne can appreciate that what a man loves most can be so easily taken away from him, and it has created in Brooks a killer where one previously did not reside. What Thorne can't understand is why Brooks has chosen him to be his silent witness. It has become a personal exchange between the two men, and Thorne can't risk the content of text messages exchanges becoming known to his bosses, who regard him as loose cannon at the best of times, or to his own team. The risk of losing the contact is far too great. As the body count grows, Thorne is stricken when he receives a photo of his best friend, presumably Brooks' next victim.
Your opinion of this novel will be determined greatly by what aspect of the series you've come to deem most worthy of your attention. Snappy dialogue is of course a-plenty, and Tom Thorne, however how dark he becomes, is always a hoot. This we'd expect from a writer who once relied on stand-up comedy to pay his bills. If the push-and-shove of modern policing, with its array of colourful characters, is what interests you there will be no disappointments there either. Where DEATH MESSAGE takes its turn is in the processing of the crime itself. Thorne dispenses with standard operating procedures to the point of irritation, and this is reflected in the annoyance Billingham has his secondary characters express at Thorne's behaviour. Thorne's character is not quite the rogue operator yet but walks closer to becoming so in this work, which is something the regular reader of this series may have been expecting with events detailed in previous novels. Thorne has more pain and hate to carry along with him, and this is all borne in the environment of developing a new romantic relationship. Billingham has put a few more spikes his creation this time round and as always, you can't help but be at least partially on the side of Thorne as he keeps his own ledger on who has done him wrong.
Back story is incorporated well into the present events so new readers to the series shouldn't have trouble with the flow of events. The character of Thorne still manages to surprise with unexpected reactions to developments in the police investigation, the details of which are carried mostly inside Thorne's crowded head. The new foibles such as the internet gambling, are a delight under Billingham's clever hand and serve to further endear his leading man to us. Thorne placed in his early forties hasn't yet entered grumpy old man territory, but the promise is there that process will only enrich the character. Are these novels character driven? Yes, as this is the writer's strength.
DEATH MESSAGE is the seventh entry in the Tom Thorne series. Mark Billingham is currently working on his next novel, a stand-alone thriller titled IN THE DARK.