Readers of Auntie M Writes know that Mark Billingham is one of her favorites. So it was frustrating that she’d missed reading Die of Shame, which starts out as a stand-alone featuring Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner and has a tie-in to Tom Thorn at its end.

It starts with six people, all addicts of some kind, in a group therapy session held by their therapist in his home. With his wife and teen daughter on the periphery, the six speak of their secrets and tell their stories of the life they’ve tried to leave. The object is to reveal their deepest shame.

It’s an intriguing setup, as each of these characters has something to hide. When one of them is murdered, it will fall to DI Tanner to ferret out the murderer. Readers will learn of the addict’s ability to obfuscate and explain away any situation. As Tanner’s investigation advances, it soon becomes clear that one of the six is responsible for the victim’s death.
That’s where Tom Thorne comes in at the end, working undercover as the newest member of the group.

While this one can definitely be read as a stand-alone, and it’s new in paperback for those like Auntie M who missed it last year, Billingham’s newest, Love Like Blood, follows the thread. Not with the group, which is tied up easily, but with DI Nicola Tanner as Thorne’s off-the-books newest partner.

It opens with a grissly home invasion that becomes a ghastly murder. At first, readers assume it Tanner who’s the victim, but although she was probably the proposed victim, Tanner’s partner Susan has borrowed her car that day and is brutally murdered in her stead.

Due to her closeness to the victim, policy dictates Tanner must be off the case. She enlists Thorne to take the case on, with her aiding him unofficially. When a young couple from different cultures go missing, they soon realize their targets are a pair of contracted killers, performing so-called ‘honor’ killings for families.

It’s a set-up that has nothing good about it. Thorne worming his way into a community where he’s despised just for being a cop; Tanner continuing to investigate when she shouldn’t. There’s Tom’s home with Helen and her son, Alfie, to consider, too, with Helen dealing with her own bad case.

A sobering Author’s note describes the statistics of increasing honor killings in the UK, and details one particular heartbreaking case. Leave it to Mark Billingham to sensitively explore this issue. Highly recommended, both of them. Do yourself a favor and read them both.

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