There is a vicious contract killer lurking, and he makes his mark by carving an “X” on the backs of his victims. D.I. Tom Thorne determines that the contract killings are related to “turf wars” between two North London gangs. One of the gangs is well established; the other gang is up and coming – and appears to be trying to make its mark, so to speak. Thorne begins his investigation and Hendricks, his temporary roommate and the medical examiner, reappears in this third novel.
Meanwhile, a cold case brings ex-DCI Carol Chamberlain in contact with Thorne. Chamberlain is retired and has recently been contacted by someone claiming to be the person who set a girl on file twenty years ago. This is an interesting development because there is already a man serving time for the crime in this twenty-year-old case. Thorne agrees to help Chamberlain get to the bottom of the case by pulling some strings and accessing case files, as well as interviewing the inmate serving time. The case is also interesting because the contract killer for the gruesome burning accidentally targeted the wrong girl.
In a clever plot twist, the two investigations meld into one complex investigation, which paves the way for this intricate police procedural novel. While I will leave the details to the reader, the now-single investigation involves human cargo, multiple murders, protection rackets, and a dangerous family that will stop at nothing to wield its power over others. The further Thorne investigates, the higher the stakes become and he becomes a potential victim of the “X killer” when his door is marked with an “X.” Thorne’s involvement with a key witness and the continued decline of Thorne’s father also add interest to the novel.
The Burning Girl is overall an interesting read, but it lacks the flow needed for a smooth, seamless read. While the plot is bumpy at times, the melding of the two investigations into one is unique and I enjoyed reading about ex-DCS Chamberlain. Just when I found my interest beginning to wane at times, a new chapter would pique my interest and keep me turning the pages. While The Burning Girl is inferior to Billingham’s three prior novels (Sleepyhead, Lazy Bones and Scaredy Cat), fans of police procedurals and Billingham will want to check out The Burning Girl.