While it’s virtually impossible to argue with the literal meaning of the saying “blood is thicker than water”, the figurative meaning is another matter entirely... for it’s wholly up to the individual, whether or not he/she would be more apt to side with kin, or with friends, in the event it came down to an either-or decision.
Me? I’m a firm believer in the notion that true “family” is made up of those we love best (which, as far as I’m concerned, has nothing whatsoever to do with the likes of shared great-uncles on a family tree or any of those dreaded annual get-togethers). Call it modern thinking, or perhaps simply pragmatism, but there you have it.
Of course, I realize that probably isn’t the norm. Family is the be-all, end-all for an awful lot of people out there; it’s a kind of invisible bond which inextricably links them together -- regardless of whether they have anything (aside from genetics) in common, or whether they even like each other or not. For such people, it’s the condition which shapes their identities and forges their characters, more than any other.
But what happens when someone finds out that he/she has a less-than-desirable relative -- not just the annoying one who laughs too loudly at his own jokes or who insists on gossiping for hours on end about her neighbors, but one guilty of doing some very, very bad things? Might having such unpleasant knowledge of one’s relative be the tipping point, when blood ties cease to matter... or would it tend to cause the person to cling that much more tightly to the traditional definition of “family”?
Award-nominated thriller author Mark Billingham delves into these complex issues in his latest tour de force, Bloodline...
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Fifteen years ago, London was rocked by a series of brutal murders which left seven young women dead before it was all over, and the man responsible -- Raymond Garvey -- was captured, tried, and sentenced to life in prison for the crimes.
At the time, Murder Squad Detective Tom Thorne was just a relative newbie, one whose part in the case consisted solely of knocking on a few doors and making some routine telephone inquiries. Still, the very nature of the murders made up the sort of horrible crime spree that neither he nor any of the other officers working the case -- nor the public, for that matter -- would soon forget.
And now, fifteen years later, history seems to be repeating itself.
When the first body is found, no one thinks much of it; the case initially appears to be a run-of-the-mill domestic squabble gone tragically wrong. But, when a second body turns up -- with scene-of-crime details nearly identical to the first case -- Thorne realizes that nothing is going to be simple about this situation at all. Not only must these two murders be related, but the marked similarities between them and the earlier Garvey killings is simply impossible to ignore.
There’s just one minor problem, though: Garvey isn’t out of prison, so it certainly can’t be him, recreating his previous crimes. In fact, Garvey isn’t even alive; he died in prison three years ago, from complications during a surgery.
That leaves a copycat killer, obviously... except that for this particular criminal, it’s clearly a bit more personal. This time, the killer isn’t just targeting women... he’s killing the offspring of Garvey’s original victims.
This time, it’s about family.
As Thorne works to juggle the demands of his own increasingly-complicated domestic problems with the mounting sense of urgency engendered by the rising body count -- while frantically trying to ensure that the remaining children don’t become victims, themselves -- we can only watch with growing horror as each piece of the puzzle falls slowly, irrevocably into place.
Decisions -- and mistakes -- will be made; no one is precisely what he or she seems to be, and the killer isn’t exactly going to wait for the police to catch up.
The seeds of evil and revenge were sown long ago... and this is the time a bitter killer has chosen for the harvest.
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With Bloodline now the eighth book in the series (or at least, the eighth one in the U.S.; as European readers are no doubt already aware, Billingham will actually be up to book number ten when his latest entry releases in the U.K. in August), I’ve been a huge fan of Billingham -- and his Tom Thorne character -- from the very start. (He’s one of those authors whose complete works have a permanent home on my bookshelves, if that gives you any indication.) His plots are consistently intriguing, his writing is smooth and effortless, and he never fails to offer up a host of compelling characters worthy of following through to the end.
Anchoring it all, of course, is Thorne... the work-weary, perpetually-melancholy, habitually-introspective, and always-prickly chap who has seen, perhaps, a bit too much of the worst that humanity has to offer. He is unforgettable in his quiet solitude, touching in his sadness and guilt, charming when his sense of humor peeks out, and endlessly fascinating when getting to the crux of whatever matter is at hand... and he achieves a sort of perfection in his very imperfection.
If you’re a fan of thrillers and mysteries but haven’t read Billingham, you could certainly do worse than starting with Bloodline... but I would urge you to go all the way back to his first Thorne book, Sleepy Head. My bet is that you’ll be hooked. :)
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