Read Lifeless - 5 Online

Authors: Mark Billingham

Tags: #Police Procedural, #Police, #Homeless men, #Mystery & Detective, #Police - England - London, #General, #Mystery fiction, #Homeless men - Crimes against, #Fiction, #Thorne; Tom (Fictitious character)

Lifeless - 5

BOOK: Lifeless - 5
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Lifeless - 5
Tom Thorne-5 [1]
Mark Billingham
HarperCollins (2007)
Police Procedural, Police, Homeless men, Mystery & Detective, Police - England - London, General, Mystery fiction, Homeless men - Crimes against, Fiction, Thorne; Tom (Fictitious character)
From Publishers Weekly

When a serial killer targets London street people in British author Billingham's gritty fifth police procedural to feature detective Tom Thorne (after 2005's Burning Girl), Thorne, a psychological wreck following his father's death, convinces his bosses to let him go undercover. The detective manages to integrate himself into the community of the down-and-outers, even as a leak threatens to expose his ploy and place him in harm's way. An unusual tattoo on one of the victims leads the police to a squad of soldiers who may have been involved in atrocities during the first Gulf War-and to a possible motive for the killings. While most readers will be several jumps ahead of the police in identifying the murderer, the author's convincing depiction of the streets and his well-developed characters more than compensate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


The fifth Tom Thorne mystery takes a timely turn in focusing on the aftermath of a wartime atrocity, even though Billingham began working on the book in the fall of 2003, "eight months before the publication of certain photographs . . and the scandal surrounding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners." Grim serendipity aside,
represents a return to form for the author after the mildly disappointing
The Burning Girl
(2005). Only a few months after his father's death in a suspicious fire, Thorne is living on the London streets. The detective inspector isn't actually homeless, but his career is in real jeopardy as he tracks a man who's kicking "rough sleepers" to death. While Thorne struggles through grief and departmental politics, he befriends a junkie and plumbs the depths of a life untethered. Back at the office, his Serious Crime Group colleagues seek the surviving members of a British tank squadron that murdered Iraqis during the first Gulf War. The gripping plot and a larger-than-normal role for Thorne's best mate, medical examiner Phil Hendricks, turn this procedural into a moody, brooding treat.
Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


As always, a great many people have helped, cajoled, suffered...

Special thanks are due to DI Neil Hibberd of the Serious Crime Group for his patience and informed creativity and also to Pauline O'Brien (Senior Press Officer) and Selina Onorah (Office Manager) at the Metropolitan Police Area West Press Office, for their time and considerable trouble.

For invaluable advice on their own very different subjects, I must thank Jason Schone, Glenda Brunt, Yaron Meron and, as always, the correctly spel ed Phil Cowburn.

At Little, Brown special thanks are due and in some cases overdue to: Filomena Wood, Alison Lindsay and Tamsyn Berryman.

There are those whose names, for many reasons, are destined to appear on this, and the corresponding page of al books to come...

Hilary Hale and Sarah Lutyens, obviously; Mike Gunn, for his past and his present; Alice Petter, for notes and a name; David Fulton, for digging me out of a hole; Paul Thorne, for being unconvinced; Howard Pratt, for knowing most things; Wendy Lee, for missing nothing...

And especial y Peter Cocks, whose eyes and ears are sharper than most and whose instincts are rarely wrong.

And Claire, for being both Dave and Carmela.

Knock hard, life is deaf.

- Mimi Parent



14 AUgust, 1984

Mr sd Mrs R. Palmer

43, Valentine Rd



Dear Mr and Mrs Palmer

Fol owing an extraordinary meeting of the board of governors, it is with a good deal of regret that I write to confirm the decision to expel your son, Martin, from the school. This expulsion wil come into effect immediately.

I must stress that this course of action is highly unusual and is only ever taken as a last resort. It was, however, deemed the only measure appropriate considering the nature of the offence. Your son's activities have been of concern for some time and are al the more disturbing considering his excel ent academic record and previously reserved character. The most recent, repulsive incident is only the latest in a catalogue of unacceptable behaviour and flagrant breaches of school regulations.

As you are aware, your son is not the only pupil involved, and indeed, you may take some comfort from the fact that your son was almost certainly not the main perpetrator and has, in my opinion, been to some degree led astray. That said, however, he has shown little remorse for his actions and is unwil ing to implicate his erstwhile partner in crime.

In order that the high educational sndards of this school are maintained, I feel that similar standards of discipline must be enforced. This being the case, behaviour such as that engaged in by your son cannot be tolerated.

I wish Martin the best of luck in his new school.

Yours sincerely

Philip Stanley, A.F.C., M.A. Headmaster.

Rectory Road, Harrow, Middlesex, MA3 4HL





Date: 27 November

Target: Fern

Age: 20-30

Pickup: London railway station Site: TBA Method: Hands only


Int or Ext)

(weapon permitted to subdue if

Nicklin watched, unblinking as the two of them walked hand in hand

towards him across the station concourse.

She was perfect.

He was stil clutching the book he'd presumably been reading on the train and she was finishing a sandwich. The two of them were chatting and laughing. They kept moving. They looked straight at Nicklin but didn't see him. They weren't looking around for anybody. They were not expecting to be met.

He was sitting and sipping from a can of Coke, gazing casual y towards the departure board every few minutes. Just another frustrated travel er monitoring the delays. He turned his head and watched them as they passed him. They were probably heading for taxi, bus or tube. If they were getting a cab then he'd settle back and wait for someone else. Annoying, but not the end of the world. If they were planning to continue their journey by public tran,sport, he would fol ow.

He was in luck.

Stil holding hands, the two of them stepped on to the escalator leading down to the underground. Nicklin put his half-empty can on the floor beside him and stood up, hearing his knee click loudly. He smiled. He wasn't getting any younger.

He reached into his coat pocket for the chocolate bar he'd bought earlier. Moving the knife aside, he took the chocolate out and began to unwrap it as he moved towards the escalator.

As he stepped on behind a backpacker, he took a large bite, and after checking that the two of them were stil there, twenty feet or so below him, he glanced out through the vast windows towards the bus depot. The crowds were thinning out now; the rush hour nearly over.

It was just starting to get dark. On the streets and in houses. Inside people's heads.

They took the Northern line south. He settled down a few seats away, and watched. She was in her early thirties, he thought. Tal with dark hair, dark eyes and what Nicklin thought was cal ed an olive complexion. What his mum might have cal ed 'a touch of the tar

brush'. She wasn't pretty but she wasn't a dog either.

Not that it mattered real y.

The train passed through the West End and continued south. Clapham, he guessed, or maybe Tooting. Wherever...

The two of them were al over each other. He was stil looking at his book, glancing up every few seconds to grin at her. She squeezed his hand and on a couple of occasions she actual y leant across to nuzzle his neck. People in the seats around them were smiling and shaking their heads.

He could feel the sweat begin to prickle on his forehead and smel that damp, downstairs smel that grew so strong, so acrid, whenever he got close.

They stood up as the train pul ed into Balham station.

He watched them jump giggling from the train, and waited a second or two before casual y fal ing into step behind them.

He stayed far enough behind them to be safe, but they were so wrapped up in each other that he could probably have walked at their heels. Oblivious, they drifted along in front of him, towards the station

exit. She was wearing a long green coat and ankle boots. He was wearing a blue anorak and a wool y hat.

Nicklin wore a long black coat with deep pockets.

On the street ahead of him, with the gaudy Christmas lights as a backdrop, they were silhouetted against a crimson sky. He knew that this was one of the pictures he would remember.

There would be others, of course.

They walked past a smal parade of shops and he had to fight the urge to rush into a newsagent for more chocolate. He only had one bar left. He knew that he could be in and out in a few seconds but he daren't risk losing them. He'd get some more when it was al over. He'd be starving by then.

They turned off the main road into a wel -lit but quiet side street and his breath grew ragged as he watched her reach into her pocket for keys. He picked up his pace a little. He could hear them talking about toast and tea and bed. He could see their joy at getting home.

He slid his hand into his pocket, looking around to see who might be watching.

Hoping it wasn't a flat. That he'd get some privacy. Praying for a bit of luck.

Her key slid into the lock and his hand moved across her mouth. Her first instinct was to scream but Nicklin pressed the knife into her back and with the pain came a little common sense. She didn't turn to

try and look at him.

'Let's go inside.'

Tasting the sweat on his palm, feeling the piss run down her legs, she opens the front door, her hand flapping desperately, reaching down to her side for the one she loves. For the only one she cares about.

For her child.


Her voice is muffled by his hand. The word is lost. He pushes her


and the boy through the doorway, hurries inside after them and slams the door shut.

The toddler in the blue anorak is stil holding fight to his picture book. He looks up at the stranger with the same dark eyes as his mother, his mouth pursing into a tiny, infinitely confused



A little after nine thirty in the morning. The first grey Monday of December. From the third floor of Becke House, Tom Thorne stared out across the monument to concrete and complacency that was Hendon, wishing more than anything that he wasn't thinking clearly.

He was, unfortunately, doing just that. Sorting the material in front of him, taking it al in. Assigning to each item, without knowing it, emotional responses that would colour every waking hour in the months to come.

And many sleeping hours too.

Wide awake and focused, Thorne sat and studied death, the way others at work elsewhere were looking at computer screens or sitting at til s. It was the material he worked with every day and yet, faced with this, something to take the edge off would have been nice. Even the steamhammer of a hangover would have been preferable. Something to blunt the corners a little. Something to turn the noise of the horror down.

He'd seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of photos like these. He'd stared at them over the years with the same dispassionate eye that a dentist might cast over X-rays, or an accountant across a tax return.

He'd lost count of the pale limbs, twisted or torn or missing altogether in black and white ten-by-eights. Then there were the colour prints. Pale bodies lying on green carpets. A ring of purple bruises around a chalk-white neck. The garish patterned wal paper against which the blood spatter is barely discernible.

An ever expanding exhibition with a simple message: emotions are powerful things, bodies are not.

These were the pictures filed in his office, with duplicates stored in the files in his head. Snapshots of deaths and portraits of lives lived to extremes. There were occasions when Thorne had gazed at these bodies in monochrome and thought he'd glimpsed rage or hatred or greed or lust, or perhaps the ghosts of such things, floating in the corners of rooms like ectoplasm.

The photographs on the table in front of him this morning were no more sickening than any he had seen before, but keeping his eyes on the image of the dead woman was like staring hard into a flame and feeling his eyebal s start to melt.

He was seeing her through the eyes of her child.

Charlie Garner aged three, now an orphan.

Charlie Garner aged three, being cared for by grandparents who wrestled every minute of every day with what to tel him about his mummy.

BOOK: Lifeless - 5
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