Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"The Bones Beneath"

Mark Billingham is one of England's best known and top-selling crime writers. He has twice won the Theakston's Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer.

Billingham applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Tom Thorne novel, The Bones Beneath, and reported the following:
As I have not yet seen a copy of the book’s US edition, I am working from page 69 of the book as it will appear in the UK. I’m not sure if there will be a difference between the two editions. The jackets are different – obviously – though both feature a spooky looking lighthouse. And there’s the spelling thing. That colour/color business. What do you guys have against the letter U anyway? It’s harmless enough. I think you’re just being mean…

Page 69 is actually the beginning of chapter eleven. Up to this point, most of the action has taken place on the road, with Tom Thorne and a few of his colleagues escorting a dangerous prisoner called Stuart Nicklin, who has promised to reveal the whereabouts of a victim, killed a quarter of a century before. Their final destination is a remote island off the coast of Wales, and this is the point where they arrive at a small police station; the place where Thorne must leave Nicklin overnight, before setting off for the island the following morning.

Thorne is out of his comfort zone in every possible respect and that starts to really kick in around this point. The difference in the way crime is approached here, the differences in the crimes themselves. He knows that the man with him is a manipulative psychopath, but he is also – weirdly – something of a celebrity. At a tiny police station in a small Welsh village, just having a murderer as an overnight guest, is enough to bring out the “welcoming committee”. But this is a very special murderer indeed:
The detective – a scruffy sod who was wearing half his breakfast on his jacket – feigned a lack of interest, but was clearly there for no other reason than to gawp at their infamous overnight guest.
It is here that Thorne’s growing sense of unease starts to ratchet up. He has had little choice but to take this assignment on, but he knows Nicklin well enough to be aware that the killer has nefarious plans of his own.

Of course he does. This is a crime novel, right?

This is also a turning point in the book as it is the last night Thorne and the rest of them will spend on the mainland, before travelling to the island, where the rest of the action takes place. Bardsey Island is a unique and unworldly place; so much so that several people who have already read the book think that I invented it. It is, in fact, very real, and if anything, even stranger than it appears in the book.

It is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent. What else makes it the perfect setting for a crime novel? Oh yes, there’s no CCTV and you really cannot get a phone signal.

For a crime-writer these days, that is seriously good news.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark Billingham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue