Recently demoted for stepping out of line once too often, prickly inspector Tom Thorne is convinced that a spate of suicides among the elderly in south London is something more sinister. When his concerns are dismissed by former colleagues at the CID, and even by his patient girlfriend, Thorne can only trust himself and his best friend—gay pub-crawling pathologist Phil Hendricks—with his suspicions of murder.
Thorne draws a chilling connection between the deaths and a controversial case three decades old. But by going solo with his investigation, he not only risks the lives of those closest to him, but also further endangers those being targeted by a deranged killer—a man with the power and cold-blooded motives to coerce his vulnerable victims toward a breathtaking end.
“Tom Thorne, the hero of a well-groomed series of police procedurals” by multiple award-winning Mark Billingham, returns—and he’s “on the hunt for a killer who proves to be extremely clever and really, really mean” (The New York Times Book Review).
“One of the most consistently entertaining, insightful crime writers working today.” —Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
“Fiendishly clever . . . with the last sharp twist saved for the final page.” —Tampa Bay Times
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Tom Thorne leaned down and gently picked up the small glass bottle from the bedside table. It was already open, the white cap lying next to the syringe, a few drops of cloudy liquid pooled beneath the tip of the needle. He lifted the bottle and took a sniff. The faint smell was unfamiliar; something like sticking plasters or disinfectant. He offered it up to the woman waiting behind him, raised it towards her face.
'What do you reckon?'
He had spent the last half an hour taking a good look around the house. In the bathroom he had found plenty of medication, but that was not particularly surprising given the ages of those involved. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed and there were no signs of forced entry, save for the broken window in the back door. That was down to the woman now taking a good long sniff at the bottle, a young PC named Nina Woodley. She and her partner had been the first officers at the scene after the dispatch had been sent out.
'That's insulin,' Woodley said, finally. 'My brother's a diabetic, so ...'
Thorne put the bottle back. He pulled off the thin plastic gloves and stuffed them back into the pocket of his Met vest.
'Thing is,' Woodley said, 'it's normally prescribed.'
'There's no label on the bottle.'
They both turned as the bedroom door opened and one of the PCs who had been stationed downstairs stuck his head around it. Before the officer could speak, the on-call doctor pushed past him into the room; young, rosy-cheeked and rugger-bugger-ish. He spent no more than a few minutes examining the bodies, while Thorne watched from the corner of the room. Downstairs, Woodley hammered a small piece of MDF in place across the broken window downstairs while another PC made tea for everyone.
'Right then,' the doctor said. He closed his bag and checked his watch to get an accurate time for the pronouncement. 'Life extinct.' He sounded rather more cheerful than anyone had a right to be at quarter to four on a drizzly October morning.
Thorne nodded, the formalities out of the way.
'Nice easy one for you.'
'How long?' Thorne asked.
The doctor glanced back at the bodies, as though one final look might make the difference. 'At least twenty-four hours, probably a bit more.'
'Sounds about right,' Thorne said. The emergency call had come in just after 1.00 a.m. One of the children – a man, now living in Edinburgh – was concerned that he had not been able to get either of his parents on the phone since teatime the previous day. Neither of his parents was reliable when it came to answering their mobile phones, he had told the operator, but there was no reason why they should not be picking up at home.
Searching the house an hour before, Thorne had found both mobiles, side by side in the living room. Half a dozen missed calls on each.
'Assuming they go to bed nine, ten o'clock,' the doctor said, 'dead pretty soon after that, I would have thought. Obviously it depends on what they did, how long they waited before ... you know, but insulin's a good way to do it. The right dosage and it's all over in about an hour.'
'Very popular with doctors, as a matter of fact. As a way to go, I mean. If you're that way inclined.'
Thorne nodded, thinking that coppers were more likely to be 'that way inclined' than almost anybody else he could think of. Wondering how most of them would choose to do it.
How he would choose to do it.
The door opened again and Woodley appeared. 'CID's here.'
'Here we go,' Thorne said. 'Fun and games.'
'I'll leave you to it then,' the doctor said.
Thorne said, 'Right, thanks,' and watched the doctor gather up his jacket from the corner of the bed and leave the room without bothering to close the door. Pills, most probably, Thorne decided, but he guessed that if he were feeling desperate enough, then he might have other ideas.
Just a shame that the quickest ways were also the messiest.
He turned back to look at the bodies on the bed.
They look tired, Thorne thought. Like they'd had enough. Paper-thin skin on the woman's face. The man: spider webs of cracked veins on his cheeks ...
He could already hear the voices from the hall below; a bored-sounding, mockney twang: 'Up here, is it?' Heavy footsteps on the stairs, before the man appeared in the doorway and stood, taking a cursory look around the room.
Detective Inspector Paul Binns was based at Lewisham police station, as Thorne was, though CID worked on a different floor, so their paths had crossed no more than a few times in the three months Thorne had been working there. Binns was several years younger than Thorne, somewhere in his mid-forties, and he was carrying a lot less weight. He had shaved what little hair he had left to the scalp and over-compensated for the appearance and demeanour of a cartoon undertaker with a grey suit and a tie that might have been a test for colour blindness. He gave Thorne a nod and walked over to the bed as though he were browsing in the furniture department of John Lewis.
'So?' he asked after a minute. 'What am I doing here?'
Before Thorne could answer, a message came through from one of his team's patrol cars. Things were kicking off at a house party on the Kidbourne estate and it was suggested that Thorne might want to get down there. He said that he was still tied up, ordered two more units to head across, then turned the volume on his radio down. 'I told one of my constables to call you,' he said.
'Yeah, I know why I'm here.' The nod from the doorway had clearly been as polite as the detective intended to get. He pointed towards the bodies, straightened his cuffs. 'Seems fairly straightforward, doesn't it?'
What the doctor had said.
Thorne moved to join Binns at the end of the bed. 'There's something off.'
Binns folded his arms, barely suppressed a long-suffering sigh. 'Go on then, let's hear it.'
'The old woman took her teeth out,' Thorne said.
'False teeth. Top set. They're in a plastic case in the bathroom, probably the same place she leaves them every night.'
'You take your teeth out when you're going to bed. When you're going to sleep, right? That's what you do on an ordinary night, isn't it? It's not what you'd do if you were planning to do ... this. It's not what you'd do if you and your old man were going to take an overdose of insulin and drift off to sleep in each other's arms. Not if you knew you weren't ever going to wake up.'
Binns stared at him.
'It's not how she would have wanted to be found,' Thorne said.
'You knew her, did you?' Binns shook his head, sniffed, snapped his fingers. 'Next!'
Thorne took a breath, took care to keep his voice nice and even. 'Where did they get the insulin from? There's no label on the bottle, so it obviously wasn't prescribed. Nothing anywhere else in the house to suggest either of them was diabetic.'
'They could have got it anywhere.'
'So could a third party.'
'I'm not exactly getting excited here.'
'Where did it come from?'
'How should I know?' Binns said. 'Internet? I saw there was a computer downstairs.'
'I don't think so.'
'Come on, you can find anything on there, you look hard enough.'
'You decide to top yourself, you find a way, don't you?'
Thorne said nothing.
'That it, then?' Binns asked. 'The false choppers and the insulin? Seriously?'
Thorne stared down again at the bodies of John and Margaret Cooper, aged seventy-five and seventy-three respectively. The duvet had been pulled up high, but it was obvious that Margaret Cooper's arm was wrapped around her husband's chest, her face pressed against his shoulder. Spoons, he thought. Couples 'spooned' in some of the old songs his mother had listened to, crooning love's tune or whatever it was; the same songs this pair might have heard on the radio when they were teenagers. The old woman's mouth hung slightly open. The cheeks, hollowed. The top lip sucked in towards the gap where the plate would otherwise have been. Her husband's lips were curled back, yellowing teeth showing, a sliver of greyish tongue just visible. His eyes were screwed tightly shut.
They had died pressed close to one another, but Thorne could not pretend that they looked remotely peaceful.
'Anything else?' Binns asked. 'I've got paperwork I could be getting on with.'
There was something. Thorne knew there was.
His eye had taken something in within those few seconds of entering the room for the first time: a piece of visual information that had not quite made sense, but which his brain had so far failed to process fully. A shape or a shadow, a something that was wrong. It stubbornly refused to come to him, like a tune he recognised but could not place.
Without making it too obvious, he looked around the room again.
The wardrobe, closed. The curtains, drawn. Cosmetics and other bits and pieces on the dressing table: hairbrush, wallet, wet-wipes. A few coins in a small china bowl. A woman's dressing gown draped across one chair, a man's clothes neatly folded on another. Shoes and slippers underneath. A biro, book and glasses case on the wife's bedside table, a paperback book of crossword puzzles on the floor by the side of the bed, a large black handbag hung on the bedstead. The bottle and syringe on the husband's side. A half-empty water glass. A tube of ointment, a can of Deep Heat ...
What was wrong with the picture?
'There isn't a note,' Thorne said.
Binns turned round, leaned back against the bedstead. 'You know that means nothing,' he said.
Thorne knew very well, but it had been the best he could come up with while he tried and failed to identify what was really bothering him. His friend Phil Hendricks had told him a great deal about suicide during the last investigation they had worked on together ... the last case Thorne had worked as a detective. The pathologist had recently attended a seminar on the subject and delighted in giving Thorne chapter and verse. The fact was that in the majority of cases, people who killed themselves did not leave notes. One of the many myths.
'I know what you're doing, by the way,' Binns said.
'Oh, you do?' Thorne ignored the burst of twitter from his radio. Reports of a suspected burglary in Brockley. The violence escalating at the house party on the Kidbourne. 'I'm all ears.'
Binns smiled. 'Yeah, I mean considering where you were before and where you are now ... it makes perfect sense that you're going a bit stir crazy, or whatever. Only natural that you might want to make something ordinary like this into ... something else.' He casually checked the mobile phone that had not left his hand. 'I understand, mate. I sympathise, honest.'
Patronise, Thorne thought.
'If I was in your position, Christ knows what I'd be doing.'
'You'd be getting pissed off with smartarse detectives who think they know it all.'
'Really?' Binns feigned a shocked expression. 'What type did you used to be then?'
Thorne wrapped his hand around the old-fashioned metal bedstead and squeezed. 'I want to get the HAT car round,' he said.
It was the job of detectives on the Homicide Assessment Team to evaluate any possible crime scene and to collect vital evidence where necessary before handing the case over. It was solely their decision as to whether or not a 'sudden' death had occurred. A suspicious death.
'Well, you know how that works.' Binns walked across and leaned back against a wall next to an old-fashioned dressing table. 'Different system these days. Between your lot and my lot, I mean. Different to your day anyway, I would have thought.'
'You'd have thought right,' Thorne said.
Your day. Nearly twenty-five years since Tom Thorne had pulled on the 'Queen's Cloth' every day to go to work. Since he'd worn a uniform.
Crisp white shirt with his two shiny inspector's pips on the epaulettes.
Black, clip-on tie.
The fucking cap ...
'It's my decision,' Binns said. 'Whether or not to bring the HAT team in.'
'I know how it works,' Thorne said.
Binns told him anyway. 'Only a detective inspector can make that call.'
'Got it,' Thorne said. 'So, on you go.' Binns had been right to suggest that the procedure had been somewhat different two decades earlier. The protocol a little more flexible. The chain of command not followed quite so religiously. There might have been a few less backsides covered, but it was certainly quicker.
'Frankly, I can't really see the point.'
'Can't you?' Thorne said.
'That stuff about the false teeth is near enough laughable and I don't think anyone's going to give a toss where the insulin came from.' Binns cast an eye around the room and shrugged. 'I pull Homicide in here and they're only going to say the samething, aren't they? You know, we both end up looking like idiots.'
'All the same,' Thorne said, 'I'd be happier if you made the call.'
Binns shook his head. 'Not going to happen.'
'Right,' Thorne said. He could feel the blood rising to his face. 'Because of where you are and where I am. Prick ...'
Binns reddened too, just a little, but otherwise gave a good impression of being impervious to an insult he'd clearly been on the receiving end of before. 'You think whatever you like, pal, but I'm not going to waste anybody else's time just because you're seeing murders where there aren't any.' He walked towards the door, then turned. 'Maybe you should have taken a bit more time off after what happened. Maybe you should have chucked it in altogether. King of all cock-ups, that one.'
Thorne could not really argue, so did not bother trying.
'Take this up with the MIT boys if you want,' Binns said, gesturing back towards the bed. 'We've got a Murder Investigation Team at Lewisham, haven't we? A nice big one.'
A team just like the one Thorne used to be part of. 'Yeah, well, I might just do that.'
'I mean it's up to you, if you want even more people taking the piss.'
Thorne was suddenly more aware than usual of the various pro-active items attached to his Met vest.
Cuffs, baton, CS gas ...
'I'll be off then,' Binns said, straightening his cuffs one final time. 'Leave you to wind this up.' The detective turned away and was checking his BlackBerry again as he walked out of the bedroom.
Thorne took half a minute, let his breathing return to normal, then bellowed for Woodley. He told her to contact Lothian and Borders police and get someone to deliver the death message to the Coopers' son in Edinburgh. He told her to find out if the dead couple had any other children, and, if so, to make sure the message was delivered to them wherever they were. He told her to stay put until the on-call Coroner's officer arrived.
'Try not to disturb anything in this room though,' he said. 'Not just yet.'
Woodley raised an eyebrow. 'Guv.'
Thorne took one last look round, grabbed his raincoat and cap then hurried downstairs and out to the car. No more than a few minutes with the blues and twos to the Kidbourne and if things were still lively he really felt like wading in. There was every chance he would find himself on the end of a smack or two, but it could not make him feel any worse.CHAPTER 2
It was almost eight o'clock in the morning by the time Thorne got back to the flat in Tulse Hill and, as was usually the case if he didn't miss seeing her altogether, he walked in to find Helen just about to leave. She was in the kitchen, which opened out into an L-shaped living area: a sofa, armchair, stereo system and TV; the floor littered as usual with toys and children's books. She finished buttoning her son's coat and removed an uneaten piece of toast from her mouth. 'God, you all right?'
Thorne tossed his raincoat on to a kitchen chair, yanked off the clip-on tie and unbuttoned his shirt. He touched a fingertip to the lump beneath his right eye and winced a little. 'I'll live.'
'Did you wind up that bolshy skipper again?' Helen asked. 'I said she'd deck you one day.'
Thorne smiled and walked across to flick on the kettle. 'Some idiot fancied a party and thought it would be a good idea to put the address on Facebook. Three hundred people trying to crash one of the flats on the Kidbourne.'
'Sounds like fun.'
'It was once we sent a couple of dogs in.' Thorne reached up to grab a mug. 'Cleared the place faster than a Phil Collins single.'
Helen laughed and tore into her toast.
'Nicked half a dozen for affray.' He touched his face again as he poured the hot water. 'Plus the lad that did this.'
'Nice.' Helen chewed. 'Other headlines?'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dying Hours"
Copyright © 2013 Mark Billingham.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Award-winning journalist Dunkel has not only researched and presented a virtually forgotten but very significant piece of sports history, he has also done it in a very entertaining, narrative nonfiction style. The principals, particularly Churchill and his players (including Satchel Paige) just simply come alive. Baseball fans will cherish this book, and it will become required reading among those who feel we can better understand today’s racial tensions by looking to the past." Booklist
"A decade before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color line in 1947, an integrated team captured the imagination of Bismarck, North Dakota . . . Dunkel delves into the history of players, towns, and baseball itself in constructing this portrait of a harmonious team rising above a segregated society. . . . a story that transcends championships, and an inspirational reflection on an otherwise dismal human rights history."Publishers Weekly