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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 25 August 2008
Mark Billingham's crime-writing career got off to a turbo-charged start with `Sleepy Head' and `Scaredy Cat'. These books were written with a real freshness of approach that confirmed him as a major new voice in the pantheon of British crime writers. His policeman DI Tom Thorne was a well-drawn maverick investigator (yes, another one!) with a world-weary sense of humour. One or two of the subsequent five novels in the series were a touch unsatisfactory for me - maybe a little bit tired - so I was greatly looking forward to his first standalone `In The Dark'.

First impressions were: `This looks like a horror novel!' You have the dark, plain cover, featuring the illuminated title: 'IN THE DARK' and beneath that, the tag line... `It's where fear lives' Of course we know it's nothing of the sort. It is what it purports to be: a crime novel.

It begins with what appears to be a gang initiation costing off-duty policeman Paul Hopwood his life. In addition to the police investigation into the affair, his heavily pregnant lady friend Helen Weeks (also a police officer) decides on a parallel investigation of her own. She initially uncovers evidence that Paul had become involved with at least two local 'businessmen' (a euphemism for gangster) and wonders what other shady dealings he may have become embroiled in. But is everything as it seems?

The book reaches a satisfactory conclusion, but I'm afraid I spotted the much vaunted `twist' a mile off (no matter: there's a couple of others). I was puzzled all the way through as to why a gangland boss, Frank Kinnell, who Paul had befriended during a past investigation, was exacting such terrible retribution on his behalf. It's only in the last few pages that Billingham brilliantly reveals the reason/s why.

Once again there're one or two little loose ends not tidied up. Billingham has done this before and quite deliberately so - to remind us that complex situations don't always have a nice pat ending in real life.

I don't know why Helen Weeks has to be pregnant here, but it seems to me (as a bloke) that Mark draws a very realistic portrait of a lady in her condition - the anxieties and occasional fits of irrational thought, the weepiness... The drug gang culture and life in a high rise council estate are also vividly drawn, though how realistically I'm not sure.

Mark writes with style, real insight and an excellent eye for character development, but I somehow kept wanting `more' from this novel. It's different from his Tom Thorne books (but guess what, Thorne makes a cameo appearance in here!), but for me there was always the nagging suspicion that he can do better than this. A cautious `recommended' from me, then.
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on 12 February 2015
I've been a fan of Mark Billingham and his DI Tom Thorne character since his debut novel. Like many series do, though, I did feel that a couple of the more recent novels suggested that Billingham was running out of ideas of things to do with Thorne. So it was a minor relief that his latest novel "In the Dark" was to be a standalone one, even if early optimism was dulled by the rather clichéd tagline "...it's where fear lives", which didn't seem quite in keeping with Billingham's normal style.

Late one night, a driver sees a car travelling with no lights on. Being a good citizen, she flashes her own lights to warn them. Unfortunately for her, travelling in the car are some gang members putting one of their number through an initiation. The car turns around and coming alongside, the occupants shoot at her, causing her to swerve off the road and kill a man standing at a bus stop.

This sets off a chain of events. The victim was a police officer, which puts them on high alert, determined to find the person who killed one of their own. However, it seems that this may have been a dodgy copper with a link to some shady characters, who are also out for revenge and aren't constrained by the same rules as the police. The victim's partner, a police officer on maternity leave as she's 8 months pregnant, is also keen to find out more, especially as it appears that her partner was keeping secrets from her.

This is typically Billingham, throwing the reader straight into the heart of the story and moving it on from there. From the first page, you know this is going to be a story about gangs in London, but it soon becomes apparent it will go deeper than that. As more and more information comes to light, the story becomes more rounded and you get to follow the main characters as they set about life and death matters.

For a while, the story read a lot like the film "Kidulthood", seeming to be mostly about life with the gang and following them. But at a point where I was starting to think it was maybe getting a little dull and wondering how things would end, there's a sneaky little twist that threw away any thoughts of how the story may end and pushed it off in an unexpected direction. This was at a point where I simply had to know what happened and I ended up turning down a good night's sleep as I felt compelled to see how things ended. This is also typically Billingham, drawing the reader in and then totally hooking them.

Billingham's strength is in the realism of his stories. He takes real life, weaves it with strands of fiction and comes up with a story that you could quite feasibly see on the news, or as part of a storyline in "The Bill". The use of language with all the characters seems quite realistic and helps keep the groups distinct from each other. Billingham always keeps the pace high and the action flowing and there is very little here that feels wasted; everything is important later on, even the parts that you don't realise are important until it's nearly too late.

The major downfall here is in the characterisation. Whilst the groups of people who feature here; the police, the gangs and those involved in killing the gang, within these groups each individual member is not well drawn. Billingham doesn't seem to work well in helping the reader visualise the characters, so they all seem quite faceless; or in the case of the pregnant woman, faceless with a large belly. This does make it quite difficult in knowing exactly where sympathies should lie as a reader, especially as there is no good and bad here, just different levels of bad.

Fortunately, the pace of the story and the high action level prevented me from worrying about this too much. There were a couple of points where I got characters mixed up with each other, but this didn't happen all that often. There were also a couple of points where I had to check back for the exact role of some of the minor characters, as they were mostly sketched over and tended to blend into the background until they were needed to add to the story, a little like the chorus in a Shakespearean play. Again, this wasn't a big enough distraction to ruin the story, but it was enough to unsettle the flow of reading, especially as the pace and intrigue was kept fairly high.

Ultimately, though, this is a gritty crime drama, certainly in keeping to Billingham's normally high standards. Existing fans will chuckle at the realisation of who the DI they call "Spiky Bugger" is and newcomers to Billingham's work will likely be impressed. It's a little like the news; only in more depth and with a much greater entertainment level .

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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In The Dark has a great plot - the accidental death of a policeman, mown down at a bus stop by the victim of a drive by shooting - and multi layered characters alternating the policeman's pregnant girlfriend's and the shooter's points of view. Obviously with Mr Billingham at the helm all is not as it seems and he slowly peels away the layers of deceit.
Unfortunately, despite the great plot I did not find this novel gripping - it was easy to put it down and I could find other things to do than pick it back up (that's my measure of a good book - nothing gets in the way). I think, for me, most of the problem lay in the alternating points of view, not because of them per se but because the change happened within the chapters and with no warning (in the Kindle edition there is often no space between paragraphs to let you know of a change) so I found myself re-reading parts to keep up and I also felt I just got into a meaty bit and the point of view changed. It was hard to empathise with characters in bite sized chunks.
To sum up. I admired the plot for its cleverness but didn't like the execution which didn't draw me in.
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VINE VOICEon 20 May 2011
I keep dipping into the author's books but this one being a 'new venture' tempted me to read the copy. It's certainly well written and excellently described but it seems I've read it all before.

Not that we have many pregnant leading ladies though. Helen Weeks does her thing and it makes for a different take on police procedures. The original crime she investigates turns out to be much more than a gangland shooting which causes the death of an innocent bystander, literally standing at a bus-stop, since that bystander is her own husband. On maternity leave, she is determined to find out the whys and the wherefores and this is where the author excels. The gradual unravelling of a much deeper plot makes for good reading and yet, somehow, at the end, you (well, me, anyway) are left thinking more should have happened.

Still, it's good to get away from Tom Thorne for a while though, as has been mentioned, the author cannot keep him completely out of the picture. Never mind, eh. We'll move on to his next book and see where that takes us.
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on 11 May 2010
Am really surprised by all the negative comments on here as I couldn't put this book down?! When I first got this book (I buy all of Mark Billingham's books) I must admit the description of the storyline put me off, BUT he is such a fantastic writer that he can make any storyline interesting! I absolutely love the way he writes and I loved the fact that it was a stand-alone story (but with a small appearance by my hero, Tom Thorne!). I also love the fact that the chapters are short....which means I was constantly thinking "Oooh I'll just read one more....!" Brilliant, the best crime writer by far.
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on 16 January 2014
I have several Mark Billingham audio books and have thoroughly enjoyed them, but sadly this was a disappointment. I am of an age when I do not understand the 'youth speak' and they do appear to talk such rubbish. I persevered up to disc 3 but have to admit I gave up. I could not find an inroad into the story and the language was OTT. But I will not give up on Mark Billingham he usually does write a gripping tale so all is not lost.
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on 1 March 2015
The first book by Mark Billingham that I read was ‘Sleepyhead’, a Tom Thorne novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. For my next read by this author, I deliberately didn’t choose another Tom Thorne but instead chose ‘In the Dark.’ I wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t up to the same standard. The story was hard going, I didn’t like the characters and a heavily pregnant police officer didn’t quite cut it with me. I will read more Mark Billingham books, but will stick to the ones featuring Tom Thorne.
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2008
Other reviewers have described the story itself - which is extremely good. The intrigue starts on the first page and is cleverly woven in later in the book. The pace does slow down in the middle but what's lost in pace gives value to the well drawn characters. The writing is excellent so much so that in reality I wanted one of the main characters to thrive when in reality he is a gang member selling drugs.
The pace picks up to a quite a speed at the end and even though you may work out the twists towards the end, this doesn't detract from any enjoyment.
I liked the Tom Thorne cameo and the snippet of information given which will be interesting when the next Tom Thorne novel comes out.
I didn't feel that this had the same grittiness that comes across in the Thorne novels but that said, this is great and holds your interest throughout.
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2009
OK, Billingham's tried to be different and for that I guess he deserves credit. Hasn't worked though I'm afraid. This is the first of his books that hasn't merited 5 stars from me. Lots of gangsta talk; problems of being heavily pregnant; almost non-existent twists; some characters whose role in the book is far from clear; and I don't think Thorne's brief walk-on works either. As another reviewer has mentioned, there are new exciting writers coming through and established 'old hands' need to be careful. John Grisham, Lee Child, Robert Goddard, Dick Francis, John Francome - they've all gone off big time and I'd hoped Billingham wouldn't join them. I'm looking out more for Macbride and Peter James among others. I hope he can bounce back though, as when he's on form, he's a fine writer.
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on 30 March 2015
An enjoyable read but strangely disassociated. I don't know why but I didn't connect to it completely in the way I normally do. I guess because, frankly, I found the heroine somewhat unlikeable. It was brave though to have a heavily pregnant lead character and braver to not tell us the sex of the baby....
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