Some fires never go out ...
X marks the spot -- and when that spot is a corpse's naked back and the X is carved in blood, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is in no doubt that the dead man is the latest victim of a particularly vicious contract killer. It's morbid and messy -- but it's a mystery with plenty of clues. This is turf warfare between North London gangs. Organized crime boss Billy Ryan is moving into someone else's territory, and that someone is ready to stand up for what he believes is his.
Thorne's got plenty on his plate when he agrees to help out ex-DCI Carol Chamberlain rake through the ashes of an old case that has come back to haunt her. Schoolgirl Jessica Clarke was lit on fire twenty years ago. Now, Gordon Rooker, the man Chamberlain put away for the crime, is up for parole, and it seems there's a copycat on the prowl.
Or perhaps it's someone trying to right a serious wrong: Jessica Clarke was the victim of mistaken identity. The intended target was the daughter of a gangland boss, a woman who would grow up to marry the current leader, Billy Ryan ...
Thorne quickly identifies a tenuous link between the two crimes, and past and present fuse together to form a new, horrifying riddle. One that involves more killings, violence, greed, and a murderous family with no values -- except gain at any price.
When an X is carved into his front door, Tom Thorne realizes that fires, once thought to be out, continue to burn.
About the Author
Mark Billingham is the author of nine novels, including Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat, Lazybones, The Burning Girl, Lifeless, and Buried—all Times (London) bestsellers—as well as the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. For the creation of the Tom Thorne character, Billingham received the 2003 Sherlock Award for Best Detective created by a British writer, and he has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. He has previously worked as an actor and stand-up comedian on British television and still writes regularly for the BBC. He lives in London with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
The Burning GirlA Novel
By Mark Billingham
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Mark Billingham
All right reserved.
The train was stationary, somewhere between Golders Green and Hampstead, when the woman stepped into the carriage.
Just gone seven on a Monday night. The passengers a pretty fair cross-section of Londoners heading home late, or into the West End to make a night of it. Suits and Evening Standards. The office two-piece and a dog-eared thriller. All human life, in replica football kits and Oxfam chic and Ciro Citterio casuals. Heads bouncing against windows and lolling in sleep, or nodding in time to Coldplay or Craig David or DJ Shadow.
For no good reason other than it was on the Northern Line, the train lurched forward suddenly, then stopped again a few seconds later. People looked at the feet of those opposite, or read the adverts above their heads. The silence, save for the tinny basslines bleeding from headphones, exaggerated the lack of connection.
At one end of the carriage, two black boys sat together. One looked fifteen or sixteen but was probably younger. He wore a red bandanna, an oversized American football jersey and baggy jeans. He was laden with rings and necklaces. Next to him was a much smaller boy, his younger brother perhaps, dressed almost identically.
To the man sitting opposite them, the clothes, the jewellery, the attitude seemed ridiculous on a child whose expensive trainers didn't even reach the floor. The man was stocky, in his early forties, and wore a battered brown leather jacket. He looked away when the bigger boy caught him staring, and ran a hand through hair that was greyer on one side than the other. It looked, to Tom Thorne, as if the two boys had blown their pocket money in a shop called 'Mr Tiny Gangsta'. Within a second or two of the woman coming through the door, the atmosphere in the carriage had changed. From buttoned-up to fully locked-down. English, in extremis . . .
Thorne looked at her just long enough to take in the headscarf and the thick, dark eyebrows and the baby cradled beneath one arm. Then he looked away. He didn't quite duck behind a newspaper, like many of those around him, but he was ashamed to admit to himself that this was only because he didn't have one.
Thorne stared at his shoes, but was aware of the hand that was thrust out as the woman stood over him. He could see the polystyrene cup, the top of it picked at, or perhaps chewed away. He could hear the woman speak softly in a language he didn't understand and didn't need to.
She shook the cup in front of his face and Thorne heard nothing rattle.
Then it became a routine: the cup held out, the question asked, the plea ignored and on to the next. Thorne looked up as she moved away down the carriage, feeling an ache building in his gut as he stared at the curve of her back beneath a dark cardigan, the stillness of the arm that supported her baby. He turned away as the ache sharpened into a stab of sorrow for her, and for himself.
He turned in time to watch the older boy lean across to his brother. Sucking his teeth before he spoke. A hiss, like cats in a bag. 'I really hate them people . . .'
Thorne was still depressed twenty minutes later when he walked out of the tube station on to Kentish Town Road. He wasn't feeling much better by the time he kicked the door of his flat shut behind him. But his mood would not stay black for long.
From the living room, a voice was suddenly raised, sullen and wounded, above the noise of the television: 'What bloody time d'you call this?'
Thorne dropped his bag, took four steps down the hall and turned to see Phil Hendricks stretched out on the sofa. The pathologist was taller, skinnier and, at thirty-three, ten years younger than Thorne. He was wearing black, as always jeans and a V-neck sweater with the usual assortment of rings, spikes and studs through most of the available space on and around his face. There were other piercings elsewhere, but Thorne wanted to know as little about those as possible.
Hendricks pointed the remote and flicked off the television. 'Dinner will be utterly ruined.' He was normally about as camp as an armoured car, so the joky attempt at being queeny in his flat Mancunian accent made Thorne smile all the more.
'Right,' Thorne said. 'Like you can even boil an egg.'
'Well, it would have been ruined.'
'What are we having, anyway?'
Hendricks swung his feet down to the floor and rubbed a hand back and forth across his closely shaved skull. 'Menu's next to the phone.' He waved a hand towards the small table in the corner. 'I'm having the usual, plus an extra mushroom bhaji.'
Thorne shrugged off his jacket and carried it back out into the hall. He came back in, bent to turn down the radiator, carried a dirty mug through to the kitchen. He picked up Hendricks' biker boots from in front of the sofa and carried them out into the hall.
Then he picked up the phone and called the Bengal Lancer . . .
Hendricks had been sleeping on Thorne's sofa-bed since just after Christmas, when the collection of mushrooms growing in his own place had reached monstrous proportions. The builders and dampproofers were supposed to be there for less than a week, but as with all such estimates the reality hadn't quite matched up. Thorne was still unsure why Hendricks hadn't just moved in with his current boyfriend, Brendan he still spent a couple of nights a week there as it was. Thorne's best guess was that, with a relationship as on and off as theirs, even a temporary move would have been somewhat risky ...
Excerpted from The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham Copyright © 2005 by Mark Billingham. Excerpted by permission.
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