Mark Billingham, Crimespree issue #1 cover story

In June 2004 we shipped our first issue of Crimespree Magazine

The cover featured Mark Billingham as our cover sotry.

Here now, eight years later, that article. From Jon Jordan, Sarah Weinman and Ruth Jordan

The entire issue (with issue 2) is available as an e-book

http://www.amazon.com/Crimespree-Magazine-1-2-ebook/dp/B005EDN7IA/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1339713513&sr=8-4

 

A year before Mark Billingham’s first book, Sleepyhead, made it to American bookstores, I was lucky enough to read it. His lead Tom Thorne grabbed me right away, as did Mark’s writing. As I’ve gotten to know Mark over the years, I count him among some the best writing talent in crime fiction today, and one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.

Of course, Mark wasn’t always a published author. He was always a writer, but he has quite done a few other things on the road to getting published.

In the UK, he is known on the stand up comedy circuit and for his work writing and acting on television. He is particularly renowned for his acting work on the series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, Boon, Birds of a Feather and as writer/producer of Big Kids. In fact, he is well known enough in England that he was recently asked to host a reception at Parliament for World Cup Rugby team.

However, the mystery writer was lurking all along, waiting and writing. I recently asked George Pelecanos about meeting Mark. George mentioned that when Mark introduced himself, he’d introduced himself as a writer. When George looked at Mark, he could see in his eyes that he really was.  Having met Mark a few times, I would have to agree. There is a look in Mark’s eyes that gives the impression that there is a lot going on beneath the surface. If I were to hazard a guess it would be ideas for scenes in the next book or how to improve a plot angle. Of course, Mark would probably laugh it off by saying he’s thinking about a having beer or something.

There is humanity to Mark’s writing that really makes it stand out. This is readily apparent in Sleepyhead. The addition of the second story arc that features the narrative of the woman in the coma is brilliant and engaging. As she lies in her hospital bed, unable to move or interact with anyone around, readers are given a glimpse into her mental and emotional world. This is what takes this debut beyond ordinary to extra-ordinary.

The human touch also comes through in the complex relationship between Thorne and his father. As the series progresses, Thorne realizes that he is becoming the caretaker as his father’s mental state begins to decline.  Thorne’s interactions with his coworkers, especially with his partner Holland, keep Thorne an everyday hero. He is a mentor to Holland, and to others he is a confidant as well as the voice of experience. Of course, his superiors consider him a bit of a loose cannon.  And while he gets frustrated with decisions made higher up, he knows when to play it close to the chest.

Another facet of Thorne that makes him a classic protagonist is his dogged determination to see a case through to the bitter end. He is driven to know who did what and how. But Thorne isn’t the formulaic lone wolf type. He realizes other detectives have specialized knowledge he doesn’t have and he knows when to listen to them. This becomes quite evident in his third book, Lazy Bones, with the introduction of retired Detective Carol Chamberlain. While working on a closed case file she comes across something that might have bearing on Thorne’s case. Thorne is smart enough to know that being retired doesn’t take away instinct and he listens to her, which made a major difference in his case.

Mark makes an effort to let us know that Thorne is not a superman.  He makes mistakes and suffers mightily from every beating. Traumatic incidents haunt him, in both his thoughts and dreams. He doesn’t just shrug off the things that happen to him; they become a part of who he is. The realistic approach to the affects of suffering adds a dimension to the writing that enriches it and makes it memorable.  The fact that Thorne recognizes his shortcomings and really tries to better himself illustrates this beautifully.

Fortunately, the humor interspersed throughout the books keeps them from getting too heavy.  While it may be typical of police to joke around to keep the mood on a crime scene from becoming depressing, Mark uses humor as another dimension of his characters. One of my favorite lines had a crime scene looking like an episode of Ground Force.

Surprisingly, Mark has actually made me feel sympathetic towards a killer.  While I’ve read books with villains I’ve enjoyed, I’d never read a book that made me feel that the killer really was a victim.

After meeting Mark you can see that there are a few similarities between him and his character. His love of Johnny Cash, the fact that he seems to take in everything around him, his dry humor, his sincerity and his ability to listen. He also strikes me as someone who tends to be very focused on whatever he’s involved with, most notably his writing.

Luckily for Mark, he also seems a quite a bit happier than his main character.  He isn’t haunted his past like Thorne, he’s happily married, has beautiful kids and doesn’t get beaten on a regular basis.

Besides being funny, outgoing and loyal to his friends and family, Mark is a genuinely nice guy. Let me give you an example: Mark, as a rather tall man, is usually well above eye level for most people. Gentleman that he is, he gently lowers himself down, much like a giraffe trying to reach a pool of water. And he stays that way for hours as he speaks happily with friends and fans alike. When you speak with him, you become aware of the passion he has for the genre and you realize he’s as much of a fan as you are.

For me, Mark is everything that is wonderful about crime fiction culture. I not only look forward to each new book, but I look forward to seeing Mark at conventions as well. Mark not only has a place on my bookshelves, but a permanent seat at my table.

For more about Mark, check out his website-  www.markbillingham.com

Jon Jordan

 

COVER INTERVIEW: MARK BILLINGHAM

By Sarah Weinman

When it comes to rising stars of the crime fiction world, perhaps the one that shines the brightest these days is the one belonging to Mark Billingham. With only four novels to his name, he’s achieved the kind of success in his home country of England that other crime writers only dare to dream of, and he’s fast approaching the same kind of acclaim in the United States as more and more fans discover the relentless suspense and top-notch characterization that are hallmarks of the Inspector Thorne series. But it isn’t only Mark’s talent as a writer that distinguishes him from the pack; he’s a well-known stand-up comic in his native country, and has a fairly extensive list of TV credits to his name, meaning that if you catch him at a book signing, you’ll have a great time watching him perform. Not surprisingly, all of Billingham’s activities keep him quite busy, but with the recent release of Lazybones in the US and the impending UK release of the fourth Thorne novel, The Burning Girl, he took time out of his schedule to talk to Crime Spree about his books, why standup comedy is markedly different from one side of the Atlantic to another, and a difficult choice for a desert island book. After this spate of seemingly random questions, no wonder Mark is considered to be one of the nicest guys in crime fiction….

SW:For those living under a rock and totally unaware of your books, what’s the DCI Thorne series all about?

MB: The nuts and bolts of it are that the series began in 2001 with SLEEPYHEAD. It continued with SCAREDY CAT (2002) and LAZYBONES (2003) which will shortly be followed by THE BURNING GIRL which is out here in the UK at the end of July. I’ve nearly finished work on a fifth Thorne novel, provisionally entitled LIFELESS. As to what the Thorne books are all about…well I’m trying to write about a man – a detective working on the Murder Squad – who loves the city where he lives and where he’s from, though he has the same love/hate relationship with it, and with its people, that all of us who live in London tend to have. The books then, on one level at least, are about what it’s like to live, and of course to die in London. At bottom though, I’m trying to write crime novels that will do the very basic job of entertaining a readership. I’m trying to tell a good story; I’m trying to engage with a reader, through well-developed characters that I hope are worth caring about and who are growing through this series. If, at the same time, I can get other stuff off my chest then fine, but whatever I’m trying to say is worthless unless it’s done within the context of an entertaining book. As far as the tone of the novels goes…I can’t really argue with those that have described the books as fairly dark; there is some disturbing stuff going on, but I also like to think that this is leavened by a fair amount of humour. Twisted or otherwise…

SW: Thorne (and the books) get a fair amount of comparison to Rankin’s Rebus novels, but I’m not sure the comparison is really apt because your books are faster-paced and more about keeping the suspense up while the Rebus books are perhaps more leisurely. So how do you go about keeping the suspense level high while still developing Thorne as a character?

MB: First up, though I agree with you that the comparison is not particularly apt, I’m not arguing with any comparison with Rankin. Ian has managed the almost impossible task I think, of maintaining an amazing level of quality through a very long-running series. Rebus is a great character and clearly, anyone who comes along and writes what might loosely be called realistic police procedurals set in a major city is inviting comparison with Ian Rankin. In UK terms, he’s the Manchester United of the crime-writing world. Or should that be Arsenal now?

In terms of developing a character, I believe in the reader, book by book, knowing as much or as little about Thorne as I do. There is no backstory set in stone. I’m trying to peel away the layers bit by bit, working on the theory that if I’m still interested in him, then hopefully the reader will be too. Yes, of course I’m trying to write in a way that creates and maintains suspense but character is paramount. If your character is, to put it politely, ‘unpredictable’ then a certain amount of suspense is built in. I don’t want the reader to know how Thorne is going to react in any given situation. He’s somebody who screws up all the time. He goes down a great many blind alleys and in the new book, and even more so in the one I’m writing now, he goes to places (in every sense) that I think may shock those readers who think they’ve come to understand him. There are some cheap tricks – and I’ve probably used a few myself along the line – that can be used to create suspense, but I think that suspense will always bogus. It’s the illusion of suspense. This is true I think in the same way that what is really terrifying is that which you can’t see, as opposed to endless, gory descriptions of mutilated bodies. You can only ever have real suspense if you care about the characters. If you don’t give a toss about these people, then there can never be genuine suspense. All the reader is left with is an intellectual challenge. It just becomes a game. You just end up playing “spot the twist” instead of really engaging with the story.

SW: If I remember correctly, THE BURNING GIRL wasn’t supposed to be a Thorne novel. What happened, and is a standalone in your future plans?

MB: THE BURNING GIRL was going to be a standalone until Thorne kind of elbowed his way into proceedings. I must stress that I’m very much NOT one of those writers who is taken over by his characters and told what to do. I’ve always found that “I go where they tell me” kind of thing a bit nauseating and mystical. I’m in charge. I’m the one doing the bloody typing, right? It wasn’t like that…

I had this idea for a standalone and I was talking about it to someone who idly suggested that this character I was talking about could just as easily be Thorne. I can’t tell you how preposterous that sounded without giving away the central premise of the new book, but suffice it to say that I laughed. I think I woke in the early hours of the following morning knowing EXACTLY what I needed to do so that Thorne could play this part in the story and I also knew that it was dead right. So he kind of forced his way into it and though it’s fairly experimental in many ways and takes the character into places where some readers may prefer that he didn’t go, I’m pretty happy with it so far. I might look at it tomorrow of course, and decide that it’s utter rubbish but this kind of schizophrenia towards the work is – I’ve found through talking to others – very common…

I think writing standalones is the best way to keep a series fresh. I think the way Michael Connelly does this is exemplary. You the reader, and I suspect Michael too, can return to Harry Bosch after one of the standalone novels, refreshed and with new life breathed into the character. There is, I suppose, a certain pressure to keep those series novels coming, and I don’t just mean from publishers. Readers are keen to catch up with characters they have grown fond of and can often be disappointed if a writer of series novels produces a standalone. I think it’s important though, if the quality of a series is to be maintained that you take a break, or that you somehow reinvent those characters, come at them from a different angle as Michael did with “Lost Light” for example. It’s also important that the characters within a series of books carry the emotional scars of all that we as writers inflict on them over a number of books. To do otherwise, as happens in many cases, is just ridiculous. There are plenty of well-known series that have grown stale of course, but there are others where the quality has been maintained and the characters are consistently interesting. Having said all that, it’s interesting that for a number of well-known writers – I’m thinking here of Harlan Coben with “Tell No One”, Dennis Lehane with “Mystic River” and Michael Connelly with “The Poet” – it was their standalone books, written after they’d already written four or five of a series, that really broke through for them. So yes, for me a standalone is still very much in my plans, but as yet I haven’t had that killer idea.

SW: When I lived in London last year, I couldn’t go into a tube station without seeing an ad for one of your books. How gratifying is it to have such a strong promotional campaign from your publisher, Time Warner UK?

MB: I’m such a big kid about that. I spend days travelling around on the tube trying to spot the posters. It’s hugely gratifying because one of the things you learn pretty fast is that whether your book is good, bad or indifferent, unless you have a publisher willing to put their money where their mouth is and market the thing, you’re pretty much out of the game. I know plenty of great books that have withered on the vine through lack of support and it’s heartbreaking. By the same token of course there is no shortage of very bad books that sell in shedloads thanks to a sassy marketing campaign and having a ton of money thrown at them. Once in a million years something will make it through word of mouth – like the McCall Smith books – but in a market as crowded as crime fiction, the reality is that marketing and publicity are hugely important. Plus you have to get out there as a writer and do your bit. I’m fortunate to have a performing background and consequently I am not remotely shy when it comes to standing up and mouthing off. Increasingly writers have to perform, which is hard on some people, but it’s good for those of us who like to show off. I enjoy the whole process of touring and publicity. I mean it’s hardly digging a ditch, is it? “What’s that? Do I want to fly off to some interesting country and spend a week in a nice hotel talking about my book? Hmmm…let me think about that one for a while.”

SW: And as you are also published in the US, what differences do you notice in terms of approaching publicity, marketing, touring, etc.?

MB: As far as touring goes it’s just so much harder in the US than it is here. You can do a pretty major tour here in not more than a few days and be in your own bed most nights. We’re a tiny, tiny island. In the States, it can be fairly brutal if you want to get around. This coming tour I’m doing eight or nine cities in about the same number of days. It’s not really worth unpacking in any hotel. When I got my schedule I actually called up like an idiot and said “I think this might be a misprint. I’m in Austin one evening and then in New York the following morning.” My shaky grasp of US geography meant that I thought this was impossible. It’s possible of course, and the same kind of thing is happening throughout the tour but will involve getting up horribly early. Like I said before though, it’s not digging a ditch and I’m looking forward hugely to coming over. Publicity and marketing differ also, of course – everything from jacket design is different, but I’d expect nothing else. Every country approaches these things differently. The books are marketed differently in the US. I’m a relatively unknown Brit author at the end of the day and my publisher is trying to build the profile of the books which is great. So, obviously there isn’t as much goes on there as there is here at home where I’m far better known as a writer. But I think American audiences at events are hugely receptive. London can be a tough place to do events because people are so blasé about it – there’s hundreds of the things going on every night. US crowds (right…I wish!) appreciate it if you make an effort I think. Like I say, I try to put on a bit of a show. Readings, old jokes, begging, that sort of thing…

SW: With the time lag in publication (Time Warner being a year ahead of William Morrow) are the two editors’ jobs exactly the same or is Claire (Wachtel, Morrow editor of Dennis Lehane, Tom Franklin, and many others) restricted in what she can do content-wise?

MB: Not at all. Claire can do whatever she chooses. Thankfully, she has been happy to publish the books pretty much in the form she receives them, which I take as an act of great faith. There are a small amount of detailed changes, which are to do with replacing any of the more impenetrable British slang – anything that will cause the reader to pause and hold up the narrative – with something more accessible to the average American reader. This kind of thing is easy enough for me to do and if the sales and marketing department at Morrow think it’s worth doing, then I’m happy enough to do it. Morrow have been hugely supportive and encouraging. It’s great to be on the same roster as the likes of Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. There’s always someone fantastic to talk to at their author parties…

SW: You have a really strong group of fellow writers that you spend a fair chunk of time with, like John Connolly, Martyn Waites and Paul Johnston. How did you all end up friends and how useful is it to have fellow writers to exchange ideas with?

MB: Well I can’t speak for them of course, but I just thought they were nice guys who I enjoyed spending time with. We met through conventions and events and so on and just got on. On both sides of the Atlantic I think that the crimewriting fraternity is a very decent bunch of men and women. Compared to actors and comedians, which are the other groups I know well, they are saints. There is far less competition and backbiting and I think they are far more supportive of one another than say…romance novelists. I know that by saying that I’m inviting a ton of hate mail, but this is what I gather. When I started writing there were a number of hugely well-established writers who were very supportive and helpful when they had no need to be. That’s such a help when you’re starting out and I think you pass that stuff on when you are the one in a position to do so and so it carries on. It’s one of the very best things about becoming a published writer that people whose work you admired as a reader are now your colleagues, and in the case of those people you mention, your friends. As far as work goes, I think you’d be surprised how little we discuss it. We discuss the mechanics of publishing – we bitch about stuff – and there can of course be the odd drunken, late-night, pretentious conversation about the “genre”, but we usually discuss far more important stuff like the new Elvis Costello album, or whether the Who are overrated, or if England will beat Scotland and Ireland at rugby. These people are now friends first and writers second. It does change the way you view their stuff when you read it I think. It’s probably harder to be objective about it because at the end of the day these are your friends. So I tend to think that my friends are all great crime writers…

SE: It’s easy to ask about favorite writers and influences, but I’d rather ask this: which writers are you most excited about that are new or up-and-coming and that Crime Spree readers might not be aware of? And related, how many galleys and proofs are arriving at your doorsteps in hope of a blurb?

MB: One of the only drawbacks I think, to writing for a living is that there is less time to read. Even if I do find time to read, if I’m deep into a book, reading crime fiction (which remains my passion) can sometimes be disconcerting and unhelpful. I’ll usually have to pick up a biography or a comedy or something when that happens. Consequently, I’m not as up with who’s up and coming as I should be. Louise Welsh, obviously is great. “The Cutting Room” was a great first novel and deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. I hear good things about a new writer called Chris Simms who has a couple of books out I think. There are new writers coming through all the time, as was evidenced by the recent Fresh Blood series from Orion, but there are also far too many established writers who are still not receiving the attention in the US that I believe their work merits. I’m thinking here of writers such as Paul Johnston, Stella Duffy and Martyn Waites…

There are PLENTY of galleys and proofs arriving all the time. My postman hates me. It’s great though; who wouldn’t want free books? It’s wonderful to be able to read some of your favourite writers so far ahead of publication. It’s a major major perk! I’m actually a little blurbed out at the moment. I’ve given quite a few quotes in this last year and I think they start to become meaningless if your quotes start appearing everywhere. I can honestly say that I’ve never blurbed a book I didn’t like, or one that I haven’t read (and there are plenty of folk who do) but I think I’ll take a blurbing vacation for a while.

SW: Back in March, you taught a crime writing masterclass with Minette Walters at the London Book Fair. What was that experience like and would you do so again?

MB: I’d happily do it again; it was great fun. We got paid for the session in wine!! I’ve worked with Minette and with Peter Guttridge (who chaired the event) before, so it was enjoyable from that point of view. We were amazed by the numbers and by the enthusiasm of those that attended. Minette and I write very different books and we write them in very different ways, so I think we were able to present the audience with contrasting attitudes. We invited people to write the opening of a crime novel based on a choice of opening lines that we’d given them. This had to be done in a twenty minute interval and we were gobsmacked at the quality of the entries that were read out to us in the second half. There was some truly amazing stuff. We discussed each entry and tried to pass on the benefit of our limited wisdom but many of those writers simply did not need it; they will, I feel sure, be taking the food from my children’s mouths in years to come…

SW: You mentioned your performing background, which reminds me to bring up “Maid Marian and her Merry Men”, the kids’ show that ran on the BBC in the late 80s/early 90s (and still beloved by a boatload of fans). Why do you think it still strikes a chord with people, and will there ever be another installment of the series?

MB: It was a tremendous show, I think, and one that was great fun to be involved in. I spent four, glorious summers running about in a forest dressed as a Norman soldier with a big sword! How much better can it get? Tony Robinson, who created that series, always believed in writing ‘up’ for children and we ended up with something that appealed not only to older kids but was also something of a cult hit with students. In fact, when the show was shown on TV in the US, they used to put it out at 11.30 at night, after “Blackadder”. It was also how I first began writing for TV. Tony knew that I did stand-up, and that I wrote comedy, so he asked me to get involved in writing for the show. Over the years there were four series and we went on to write a stage musical for the Bristol Old Vic and an (as yet unproduced) screenplay. We were never afraid to write adult gags into “Maid Marian” and I think there was something in it for viewers across a broad age range. I still get people coming up to me saying how much they enjoyed the show which usually makes me feel very ancient. As to whether it will ever come back…who knows? Every few years we get together and talk about it and maybe one day the time will be right. I probably wouldn’t have the time to be involved in the writing, but I’d drop most things to climb back into that chainmail and run about in the forest again…

SW: How much are you pursuing stand-up comedy these days compared to before? I know you have done gigs in other countries (China, Malaysia) but would you ever do stand-up in America? If not, what are the differences between Brit and US comics?

MB: I’m doing a lot less stand-up these days. The main reason is that I don’t have the time to write new jokes. I was never very prolific anyway in terms of turning over material, but if I spend a day writing gags these days, it feels like I’ve wasted a day when I should be writing the new book. The other thing is that I have to spend so much time travelling to promote the books that I’ve had to give up travelling to perform stand-up. If I hadn’t I just wouldn’t be spending any time at home. So I’m pretty much doing the bare minimum of stand-up – if I did any less then the gigs would be nerve-wracking because I’d be rusty, I wouldn’t be match fit. It doesn’t take too much time away from the circuit for the timing to go, and the confidence. The books have given me the freedom to pick and choose which gigs I do now, which is great. Not having to do it makes the gigs a lot more fun. Once or twice I’ve come close to doing stuff in the states but it’s never quite come off. I certainly wouldn’t mix a book tour with a stand-up tour. I’m a firm believer in keeping the two things separate. You need to put in a fair amount of work before your material will translate from UK to US or vice versa. I mentioned confidence, which is one of the main differences between US and UK stand-ups I think. A lot of UK comics are dour and insecure. Their American counterparts may be equally insecure, but they do a good job of masking it. They’re all very slick. The other difference is that US comics seem to place a lot of importance on credits. If I’m MC at the Comedy Store and I’m introducing an American act, they always want me to tell the audience all their TV credits which we never do in the UK. I try and tell them that it’s not a good idea; audiences in London really don’t care about that stuff and the more you “big an act up” in that way, the more trouble they can find themselves in. I still love stand-up though, it gives me a buzz that writing can’t. When it’s going well there’s nothing like it. It’s about instant feedback I think. With a book – you write it, you deliver it, and maybe a year later it comes out and sometime after that, if you’re lucky you get some feedback by way of reviews, or you meet readers at an event. By this time of course you’ve written another book. With stand-up it’s much different. You know straight away if a joke has worked, and believe me you know very quickly if it hasn’t! I do a bit of stand-up when I’m doing readings and I want to thank those people that come along to see me on the strength of the books, for being a very forgiving audience…

SW: Are you still collecting books? And if you had to pick one that you would never want to part with, which would it be?

MB: I went through a mad, anal phase (this sounds like it’s going somewhere VERY strange!) of collecting, which saw my house turned into a bookstore. Threatened with bankruptcy and divorce I had to cut back. Now I no longer collect for the sake of it. I collect books by writers I like, end of story. I have first edition collections by most of my favourite writers from the US and the UK. Picking one is hard…can I choose one that I wrote myself? I do have a very special edition of SCAREDY CAT which was presented to me by Time Warner. It was the book that really broke through here – it went top five and was nominated for the Gold Dagger and they had a limited edition of one copy specially bound in leather and slipcase and all that just for me. So I’d never want to part with that. I feel certain of course that within a few days of my death the thing will be popping up on ebay…

SW: Comic, actor, collector, crime writer…you’re not exactly a one-note guy, that’s for sure. What, besides the new Thorne novel, are you working on at the moment?

MB: I spend most of the time when I’m not working on the new book cataloguing tracks and compiling lists on my iPod like the sad, sad man that I am. The last non-book writing I did was the screenplay for a cult kids show here from the seventies called “Mr Benn”. Who knows if it will ever get made but it was fun to write. I also recently ventured into writing short stories for the first time with a story in a collection called “Men From Boys” which John Harvey edited, and another in Karin Slaughter’s collection “Like A Charm”. I thoroughly enjoyed doing those stories and hope to get a couple more written quite soon. I spend a fair amount of time dealing with mail to and from the website which I think is important. If people take the trouble to write, I believe in taking the trouble to reply. We Brits are awfully polite. This explains why we never complain in restaurants, or after particularly disappointing sex.  Aside from all this…I’m just trying to spend as much time as possible with the family, a recent addition to which has been a golden retriever puppy called Holly who’s turning the house upside down. I have to write a lot quicker and sell more books to replace all the things she’s chewed to pieces…

SW: Ten years ago, what did you see yourself doing now, and what do you see yourself doing in ten years’ time?

MB: A typical day ten years from now…?

In the morning I write a chapter of the new novel. Then after a hearty lunch I nip down to the set of the new Tom Thorne movie which is somewhat fraught as the cast and crew struggle to handle the pressure of following the previous movie which won such an enormous number of Oscars. I make my excuses as I have to hurry to Wembley Stadium as I’ve been drafted in as centre-forward for Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the last minute of a thrilling cup final, I score the winner against Manchester United and rush to the welcoming arms of my wife and two wonderful children. Jack who is now 16 is a guitar prodigy and mathematics wizard while Katharine (18) is not only dazzlingly beautiful but is the youngest winner of the Booker Prize. There’s not a lot of time for celebration as Elvis Costello has asked me to sing backing vocals at his gig that evening and there’s a party afterwards and while I’m sitting there with Elvis chewing the fat, fighting off the advances of several supermodels, I feel something digging into my back. I wake up at that point and discover that a scary-looking nurse is poking me with a fork and telling me it’s time for dinner. I stare at her blankly, sitting in a puddle of something vaguely unpleasant and telling anyone who’ll listen that I used to write books…

To be serious, ten years ago I was doing stand-up and writing for TV and I suppose I saw myself still trudging round the stand-up circuit dishing up the same old, tired act and being a gun for hire in terms of TV scripts. I am of course still doing the former, but now I can pick and choose where I dish up the tired old act. I certainly never thought that I would be writing crime fiction for a living, though to do so was a real dream for me. I devoured crime writing as a reader and went along to conferences to get books signed by my favourite authors, and the fact that I now get to hang out with many of them is still a huge buzz for me. Ten years on? I would be enormously grateful if a decade from now I was still writing, that people still considered it worth paying me to write the books and that I was still as enthusiastic about it as I am today. I would love to have a body of work behind me by then that was being enjoyed by readers and that I could be genuinely proud of. So not much to ask for, then. That’s about it really. To be happy and to still enjoy the work. And to still have my faculties. At least the really important ones…

SW: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island and the only books available to take with were one of the Harry Potter novels or The Da Vinci Code, which one would it be?

MB: I must be the only person on the planet who hasn’t read The Da Vinci Code, so I can’t really comment. I think I’d have to go for the Harry Potter. It would need to be one of the later ones; one of those meatier tomes that was, shall we say…less edited than the others. That way, even if I didn’t enjoy reading it, I could use it to kill fish or stun small mammals….

 Mark Billingham’s books to date are:

Sleepyhead, Scaredeycat, Lazy Bones, Burning Girl

LAZY BONES by Mark Billingham

June, 2004

ISBN 0-06-072652-0

William Morrow

“Douglas Andrew Remfry, thirty six years of age, was released from Derby Prison ten days ago…”

LAZY BONES is Mark Billingham’s third look into the world of D.I. Tom Thorne. One dead in a seedy hotel, another found in a hotel slightly nicer. Someone is killing serial rapists. Thorne and his staff must race against time, public opinion and their own apathy to see justice done. The body count grows.

Billingham has come into his own. Lazy Bones is the author’s tightest book yet. “Taut Noir”, if you will. This is a novel written in two voices and on many levels. The police procedure is startling well done. The rigid rules of this mystery sub genre and human fallibility often mix like vinegar and oil. Mr. Billingham has found the right formula.

We care about this team of police: Hendricks the pathologist, Holland the partner who’s about to become a father, Andy Stone, and the female dynamo Yvonne Kitson. The addition of Carol Chamberlain to Thorne’s confidents is a welcome one. And Thorne?

Thomas Thorne is a fascinating lead.  He is a man afraid to get close to anyone. He is a son who is assuming the responsibility of caretaker with frustrated compassion. He is a co-worker who commands respect and inspires friendship. He is first and always police.

Strap yourself in for a fast paced read. When the big break comes in this case it will leave you with a sense of dread.  The danger will be palpable. The repercussions will be frightening. The reading is easy.

Mark Billingham is one of Crime Fiction’s best imports in a decade.

Ruth Jordan