Billingham, Mark - 'Rush of Blood'
Taking a breather from his excellent series starring DI Tom Thorne that earned him a reputation as one of Britain's top crime writers, former comedian Mark Billingham changes tack with this standalone thriller delving into the aftermath of a Florida vacation.
Perfect strangers, a perfect holiday … a perfect murder?
Three British couples, each with their own secrets and issues, meet around a swimming pool during their holiday in sunny Florida, sipping cocktails and swapping tales, before continuing to stay in touch after the sunburn has faded. But their trip away ended on a tragic note: the teenage daughter of another holidaymaker goes missing, only to later turn up floating in the mangroves, dead. What really happened to the young girl on that final day?
Spanning the two sides of the Atlantic, an overly enthusiastic young British cop and a jaded American detective work the case, trying to bring answers, and justice, to the grief-stricken mother of the dead girl. Then a second girl goes missing in England. Does one of the British holidaymakers harbour a dark secret? Is one of them a killer?
RUSH OF BLOOD cuts between the two-pronged investigations in Florida and England and the catch-up dinners the trio of holiday-making couples conduct in the weeks after their vacation. While it's a device that could work for building tension and intrigue, for some reason it delivers unevenly. Perhaps surprisingly, the best bits of this book are actually the Florida scenes, with the US detective and the heartbroken mother more believably fleshed out and are more interesting characters than the British cop. The scenes back in England, Billingham's traditional stomping ground, almost seem thin or forced at times. Like the pieces are there, being moved around in an interesting way, but something is missing.
There is a good narrative drive to the tale, and the dinner parties certainly provide some interesting insights into the machinations of human relationships, as the tension mounts as the authorities swirl around the holidaymakers and they begin to suspect each other and deal with the tragedy in a variety of ways. Billingham delves nicely into the domestic dramas and frustrations of everyday people, and explores the psyches and motivations of his characters, while setting readers' minds racing as to 'whodunnit'.
There is plenty of good stuff here, but for whatever reason RUSH OF BLOOD just doesn't seem to hit the heights of Billingham's other books.
Enjoyable more than excellent, RUSH OF BLOOD finishes strong.
Craig Sisterson, England
Craig Sisterson is a writer and crime fiction reviewer from New Zealand, currently based in England, and he blogs at Crime Watch.