A word first on television made from novels:

Mark Billingham’s novels include a stand-alone, In the Dark, and the DI Tom Thorne series, a character Lee Child has compared to Morse and Rebus. Thorne is now a television series in the UK and Auntie M has seen each of the three-parters that illustrate Billingham’s first two in the series, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat. Actor David Morrissey, also executive producer, read a Thorne novel and enjoyed it; then was pleasantly surprised to read he was exactly the actor whom the author pictured playing his detective inspector one, who plays close to, and sometimes, over the line.

The teleplays follow the the original story-lines closely, with the exception of a few casting changes, as in making Thorne’s superior, Brigstocke, a woman. His best friend, pathologist Phil Hendricks is described in the books as a tall, bald, heavily pierced and tattooed Mancunian. In the series, he’s aptly played by shorter Irishman, Aidan Gillen, whose head full of bushy dark hair nonetheless conveys the spirit of the original character as drawn by Billingham. But these are small changes.

What’s in full force is the power of the stories Billingham originally told, and Morrissey’s ability to get Tom Thorne’s ambivalent character just right. Here’s Gillen on the left and Morrissey on the right.

More of the novels are planned for future filming by Sky1; check the local satellite listings in your area.

Now on to the newest Thorne novel, Good as Dead (The Demands in the US).

Change is on Tom Thorne’s mind after upheaval in his personal life. He’s sold his beloved but not fixable old BMW for an updated model he’s still getting used to; he’s put his flat on the market; and he’s even considering a job transfer.

Then he finds himself called for by name, requested by a shopkeeper who has barricaded himself and two hostages into his news shop.

Thorne remembers the man’s name from a prior case involving manslaughter and the man’s son, who received an unusually long sentence in prison for what seemed to be manslaughter in self-defense.

The hostages are a cowardly banker and a DI from the Child Protection Unit whom Thorne remembers from a former case.

Helen Weeks’ partner was killed when she was pregnant with her son, now eight months old. Both hostages are in Amin Akhtar’s shop when harassment by local thugs causes him to snap, a classic case of being in the wrong place at just the wrong time.

Yet Amin has a specific point to holding these two by gunpoint. They are the leverage he needs for Thorne to investigate the apparent suicide of the his son in prison.

Convinced the youth wouldn’t have taken his own life, Amin tasks Thorne with unraveling the secrets behind his son’s death.

The threads Thorne pulls will have unexpected and surprising twists, in the way that Billingham does so well, as Thorne puts his career on the line to find the truth. Time is against him as hours and then days pass as he tries to find the truth about what happened at the youth institution housing Amin’s son.

And in the end, not everyone will walk out of that shop alive.

Billingham’s novels are complex and compelling, filled with with the right amount of psychological insight into his very human character’s mental state. The tension is taut and Billingham manages to keep getting better with each novel. The can’t come fast enough.

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