Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Die of Shame.
Billingham has already established himself in his addictive Tom Thorne series, his hard-hitting protagonist leading the charge in a number of brutal nail-biters. But the author offers a change of pace with a new protagonist, Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner, and a murder scene that fits comfortably into contemporary issues: a possible murderer ensconced in a therapy group, where secrets and privacy require both group and psychologist’s discretion.
“What is said in this room stays in this room”, etc., except that there is no true legal standing in this concept, more of a code of honor and respect among participants. Really a fringe element in the recovery movement, this private therapy group consists of selected individuals who meet with their therapist, Tony De Silva, once a week in a north London house. They share the intimacies and secrets with one another and their therapist, the only real connection to recovery each client’s stated “addiction” and length of recovery and affiliation in anonymity. These folks consider themselves a family, trusting De Silva to rein them in if emotions get too unmanageable. Currently, he is asking the group to explore shame as it relates to the addictive patterns in their lives.
Now one of them has crossed a line, and murder is the result. DI Tanner has her eye on the group as the source of her killer but attempts to respect their particular boundaries as each is separately interviewed. Those interviews provide a series of tangled insights but no solid evidence of perpetrator or reason for the death of one of them, a rather frustrating exercise for officials trying to solve a murder. Not to worry: the persons of interest will unveil their own secrets as the group meets and the murder is done (although it is somewhat confusing when the sessions are either in the present or just before the murder). In any case, over endless discussions, confessions, and arguments, the dirty laundry is aired. Rules will have to be broken, truth exposed, if a killer is
to be arrested.
It’s dicey to mix therapeutic methods with criminality, made more complicated--and irritatingly wrong-footed--to plunder serious recovery attempts for the titillation of thriller junkies. The characters are fairly stereotypical and not very interesting (as in deep), their self-serving and facile flaws propping up the plot but little else.
As for the therapist, whose family lives upstairs and manifest their own issues, well, it all just fits with the rest of the story. DI Tanner is similarly cast, marginally engaging, judgmental, and professionally rigid. While I enjoy Thorne’s dark-side edginess, this novel leans too heavily on the gimmick, but I am determined to continue and hope it will be resolved…
Later… I put in the time, read the pages, and am appalled. I have nothing positive to say about this book. I could barely finish, shocked at every boring, banal, ridiculous conversation, dramatic encounter, and simplistic resolution. (Hint: people in recovery deserve privacy, not exploitation, are capable of self-exploration, and are often relatives and friends.) What on earth was Billingham thinking? Die of Shame is, unfortunately, a very apt title.