Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham

The Blurb On The Back:

She says she’s an ordinary mother. 

He knows a liar when he sees one.

Sarah thinks of herself as a normal single mum. It’s what she wants others to think of her.  But the truth is, she needs something new, something thrilling.

Meanwhile, DI Tom Thorne is investigating a woman’s suicide, convinced she was driven to do it by a man who preys on vulnerable women.

A man who is about to change Sarah’s life. 

You can order THEIR LITTLE SECRET by Mark Billingham from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 2 months after THE KILLING HABIT.  DI Tom Thorne has been called out to what seems like a clear-cut case of suicide: Philippa Goodwin jumped in front of a train.  But something about it nags at Thorne’s senses so when he discovers that Goodwin had recently been fleeced of £75,000 by her boyfriend, Patrick Jennings, who disappeared shortly after, he’s determined to do whatever he can to arrest him because while Jennings may not be guilty of murder, his actions definitely pushed Goodwin to do what she did.

Meanwhile, Sarah is a single mum to young son Jamie. She’s doing okay financially – thanks to a generous divorce settlement from her cheating ex Pete who is now shacked up with a younger woman – and has made friends with some of the other parents who gather at the school gate – Caroline, Heather, Savita and David. Then she meets the charming and good-looking Conrad at the local coffee shop and sparks instantly fly as Sarah realises she’s met someone who’s about to change her life forever …

The 16th in Mark Billingham’s DI TOM THORNE SERIES has a bit of a treading water feel to it as Thorne and DI Nicola Tanner deal with the fallout from THE KILLING HABIT and Thorne deals with the breakup of his relationship with Helen.  Unfortunately I didn’t believe what happened between Sarah and Conrad or what it is about Conrad that makes him so irresistible to women so while I did keep turning the pages, this isn’t really vintage Thorne.

I think that part of my issue with this book is that I haven’t read the previous 2 books in the series, which meant that I wasn’t fully up to speed with what had happened to Thorne or his relationship with Helen and although Billingham does a good job of sketching out the events, I did feel that I had missed out on the rationale behind some of the emotional developments here.  For example, Thorne has a bit of a self-pitying, fatalistic vibe to him in this book (even more than normal) as he tries to work out why Helen wants a break and yet doesn’t make any real effort to try and patch up their relationship (which I found a bit irritating).  Similarly, although Billingham indicates that Thorne and Hendricks having teamed up to do something illegal to protect Tanner, I didn’t have enough information to process why Tanner clearly feels so conflicted and guilty and while Billingham tries to inject some tension with her revelation that she’s considered confessing to the authorities, without that background information it didn’t really resonate with me.

I did like the relationship between Thorne and Tanner though – especially given that she is much more by the rulebook than he is – so seeing how they influence each other and the banter in their scenes is nicely done (most notably when they have to go to Glasgow to interview a potential witness).  Also good is the relationship between Thorne and Hendricks, who displays his customary sympathy and warmth to Thorne’s relationship woes (something given an added dimension given his friendship with Helen).

In contrast the relationship between Conrad and Sarah is much harder to buy into.  In part I think that this is intentional as Billingham is clearly interested in folie a deux criminal activity (with Hindley and Brady getting cited as a real life example and Thorne’s old foe Nicklin also getting a mention given his use of partners), which is something that can’t really be explained even by psychiatrists like Melita Perera who makes a re-appearance here. But it does make for a frustrating read – partly because I just didn’t think there was enough on the page to explain what makes Conrad such a convincing conman or what draws women to help him in the way that they do (especially when they take such risks to do so).  This is especially the case with a final twist reveal that I had already guessed in advance but which really has no explanation to it at all, making it disappointing and unconvincing.  I had guessed one key reveal about Sarah in advance but while Billingham uses flashbacks to explain some of her character, it isn’t enough to fully flesh her out – especially given some of the things she does in the book.

This is all a shame because the pacing of the book is well done and Billingham puts enough in there to keep me interested enough to keep turning the pages and while I thought that Thorne is emotionally treading water in the book, I remain interested in him enough to care where he ends up.  Also, I liked the way Billingham uses time jumps to show that policing isn’t wrapped up neatly within a couple of weeks (although I equally thought that he was a little reliant on coincidence to keep events moving).  Ultimately, although I don’t think this is vintage Thorne it’s still an okay read that held my attention to the end and I will definitely check out the preceding books that I’ve missed.

THEIR LITTLE SECRET was released in the United Kingdom on 2nd May 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

2 thoughts on “Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham

  1. I just need to say to anyone out there how very disappointed I was reading Their little Secret! I always wait for the paperback. On this occasion I done something I have never had to do b4 ! I picked this book up 4 times and ‘re read the first 9 chapters….on the 5th and determined event of reading I reached the end yesterday. I got really exited three quarters through the extremely confusing plot building!! only to feel I bought a book that made me wonder why did I waste my time patience and money. From one of my most famous crime writers. I have read every one and so sorry to say I will not read another. The story never flows in any respect, except for Tom Thorne and his teams characters being as confusing as this book. Sorry, I cannot lie If it was the 1st book From Marks I would never ever pick up another. Very Disappointed indeed. Reading the Acknowledgsments just shouted out thoughts I can only keep to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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