Thrillers. Not, I’m realizing, a genre I pick up normally. And when I have, I get a few chapters in, read the ending and call it a day. Or finish the novel, depending. I can’t handle the stress. I can’t handle the whodunit. I need to KNOW whodunit.
I restrained myself from this behaviour while reading Love Like Blood by British writer Mark Billingham, mostly because the detectives in the story seemed to really know what was going on and just needed to fit the pieces together. In this, it reads more like a typical crime cat and mouse. Also, I do love British crime TV shows and this book reminded me of watching one of those.
Tom Thorne (who is the main character in something like 13 of these books already) gets sucked into an investigation he didn’t expect after Nicola Tanner, another detective, manipulates him into helping her. Tanner’s girlfriend has just been killed and Tanner believes the people who killed her were actually trying for Tanner herself. She has been investigating a series of honour killings that have impacted the Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu communities in London. She has a theory—she thinks families are hiring a team of two men to commit the murders.
She convinces Thorne to work with her (she’s on bereavement leave and supposed to stay out of the office) because years ago he had a case she thinks is linked to her current investigation.
And because twisty turns are part of the thriller genre, subterfuge ensues.
There is a lot of talk in online and in literary and arenas about appropriating the stories of other cultures and male writers using rape as a plot device. Honour killings and rape are highly sensitive topics and both are employed by the writer. By keeping the occurrences off book—they are reference points, not action scenes—he doesn’t glorify either of them.
I don’t feel qualified to discuss how the author handled portraying the communities the novel touches, but I did attempt, while reading, to think about the issues and to consider that violence is a real part of some people’s lives. Murder is not acceptable, no matter the cultural norms. I get that there is a small segment of the population disagrees. How do you combat that?
It’s hard to write off Love Like Blood as ‘just’ a crime novel because of the subject matter.
Mark Billingham was at Events 15 (More Than a Good Whodunit) and 36 (Live a Little) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.