EXCERPT: The Visitor – The Final Visit
‘I didn’t think you were coming back,’ the prisoner says. He had begun to roll a cigarette as soon as he’d sat down and now he licks the edge of the paper, his eyes fixed on the person in the chair opposite.
‘I had a lot of running around to do.’
‘A bit of detective work, after what you said last time.’
He is trying hard not to look nervous, or even particularly interested, struggling to remember exactly what he said all those weeks before. What he might have given away. He says, ‘It’s rubbish, isn’t it? Everything you put in that first letter. The reason you’ve been coming.’
‘Sorry about that.’
He slaps his hand on the table, but not in anger. He’s just pleased to have been proved right. ‘I knew it.’
‘What do you care? You’ll be out soon enough.’
‘Yeah, I knew it first time I saw you.’
‘You don’t look like a student.’
‘What do I look like?’
He shrugs, roll-up complete. ‘Well, you’re obviously some kind of nutter.’
The visitor nods. ‘I can’t really argue with that. Some kind.’
‘So you know, if I see you once I’m out, I won’t be quite so friendly.’
‘There’s no danger of that.’
‘Just as long as we’re clear.’
‘I mean, we all know about that famous temper of yours, don’t we?’ A smile. ‘The only reason I came back at all was to say thank you.’
‘For giving me what I needed. For putting me on the right track.’
Now he doesn’t much care whether he looks nervous or not. All these years saying nothing; not even then, after it had happened.
He hadn’t let something slip, had he?
No, he can’t have been that stupid.
He sits up straight and lays his hands flat on the table. He says, ‘You hear stories about people like you.’
‘Really? What kind of people is that?’
People who get off on all this. Who just like being close to it.’ Now, he leans forward, confident that he’s hit a nerve. That he’s back in charge. ‘All this shit you’ve been giving me, all those questions, and I reckon you just want to know what it’s like.’
‘What it’s like?’
‘To kill someone.’
The visitor’s face breaks into a grin. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. I’ll know for myself soon enough.’
ABOUT ‘DIE OF SHAME’: Every Monday evening, six people gather in a smart North London house to talk about shame. Among them are a grieving surgeon, a betrayed housewife, a taunting gay model, a barely recovered heroin addict. All they have in common is a history of pain and compulsions—until they’re linked by the brutal murder of one of their members. Det. Inspector Nicola Tanner is drawn into this intimate circle to find the killer. Unfortunately, not a single one of them is willing to share.
Now it’s up to Tanner to delve into their pasts on her own. But what secret could be so shameful as to kill for it? Or die for it? And how can she possibly find the truth when lies and denial are second nature to her suspects?
MY THOUGHTS: I had absolutely no idea ‘who dunnit’. Billingham adeptly casts suspicion on all of the remaining characters, so that I kept changing my mind. But the motive was the stumbling block, although all of the people are living on the edge, teetering between their pasts, and the future that lays ahead of them if they can only stay clean.
There’s Robin, a respected doctor in his early sixties, with a marriage breakup and a history of addiction to a variety of easily obtainable medications behind him. But he’s being blackmailed, threatened with exposure to the medical council.
Tony is the therapist, himself a recovered addict and ex-musician with a less than satisfying home life. His wife seems bored with him and is openly critical of his ‘work’, and his relationship with his clients. His daughter alternates between ignoring him, and openly flaunting her drug use.
Heather is a thirty two year old woman, once addicted to drugs and gambling. She is needy, the group peacemaker and has a ‘thing’ for Tony. She admits in a group session that she is the one she trusts least in the group.
Chris is a young gay man, living in hostels, shelters and anywhere else he can crash that won’t cost him money. He has swapped his drug dependency for an addiction to computer games and online pornography. He is not comfortable in his own skin and enjoys shocking the other group members with tales of his sexuality.
Diana is a well to do housewife who became an alcoholic after her marriage disintegrated and her daughter rejected her. She too has swapped her addiction to alcohol for compulsive shopping.
Caroline is new to the group, obese, a compulsive overeater.
One of these people will be murdered. One of these people is a murderer.
Billingham has, as always, constructed a diabolically clever plot. His characters are a complex lot, but totally believable, an interesting mix of personalities. Put together in a room, ostensibly to support one another’s recovery, there are conflicts and resentments, lies and betrayals, and occasionally outright hatred.
The ending is not going to suit everyone, but I liked it.
Although this is a stand alone novel, it amused me that Billingham was unable to resist inserting the characters of Phil Hendricks, a much-pierced medical examiner, and even that of Tom Thorne himself.
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THE AUTHOR: Also writes as Will Peterson with Peter Cocks.
Mark Billingham was born and brought up in Birmingham. Having worked for some years as an actor and more recently as a TV writer and stand-up comedian his first crime novel was published in 2001. Mark lives in North London with his wife and two children.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Grove Atlantic via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Die of Shame by Mark Billingham for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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