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Billingham, Mark

Billingham, Mark

PERSONAL:

Born in Birmingham, England; married; children: Katharine, Jack.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer. Has worked variously as a stand-up comedian, an actor, and a writer for television.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Sherlock Award, Crime Writers' Association, 2003, for Scaredy Cat; and Crime Novel of the Year (at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival), Theakston's Old Peculier, 2005, for Lazybones.

WRITINGS:

"TOM THORNE" SERIES

Sleepyhead, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.

Scaredy Cat, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.

Lazybones, Little, Brown (London, England), 2003, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

The Burning Girl, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Lifeless, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.

Buried, Little, Brown (London, England), 2006.

Death Message, Little, Brown (London, England), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Mark Billingham grew up in Birmingham, England. He began his career in media working as an actor and enjoying success as a writer for British television. He made his first foray into the crime novel genre in 2001 with the publication of Sleepyhead, which featured Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. The popular success of the novel in his native England led to its publication in the United States later that year. He has since followed up his debut effort with several more Tom Thorne detective stories.

In Sleepyhead, Thorne must track a serial killer whose only surviving victim, a woman named Alison, has developed a condition called "locked-in syndrome" as a result of the attack. Prevented from moving or communicating with the outside world, Alison is nonetheless able to observe the world around her. In the online journal Counterculture Sion Smith wrote of the novel that "DI Tom Thorne is a well-thought-out and likeable character in the traditional mold—drinks a bit much, busted marriage—but it's the way Billingham has ground him in reality that really gets you behind him." Rebecca House Stankowski of Library Journal concurred, "The strength of what could have been a standard medical/police procedural lies in its complex characters, serpentine plot twists, and dark ending."

Billingham's second and third books in the Tom Thorne series, Scaredy Cat and Lazybones, both met with popular success. Of Scaredy Cat, Stankowski wrote that it was "every bit as intense and creepy as the first." Regarding Lazybones, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that although this third novel in the series is "written with care … Billingham may need to switch the formula soon." In Lazybones, Thorne is again charged with tracking down a serial killer; this time the killer is offing convicted rapists shortly after they are released from prison. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that "Billingham does not delve as deeply into either Thorne's personal issues or those of the other policemen as he did in his last book." However, Booklist's Frank Sennett felt this novel had "compelling characters" and that Billingham's "gift for coupling canny observations with effective plot misdirection—mark this a series for long-term success."

The Burning Girl "breaks entirely new ground for Thorne, with a whole new plot structure that is refreshing and, quite frankly, excellent," said Mystery Ink contributor Fiona Walker. In this fourth novel of the series, Thorne is investigating a contract killer who leaves a calling card by carving the letter X into his victims' backs. When he pairs up with ex-Detective Chief Inspector Carol Chamberlain to work a cold case involving the death of a young girl, clues from both investigations start linking the cases together. Sennett noted that the novel has "a solid plot," but that "it fails to deliver much of the intriguing personal interplay that makes the series stand out." On the other hand, Library Journal's Rebecca House felt that Billingham delivers a "gripping police procedural filled with multidimensional, realistic characters that will keep readers hooked."

In Lifeless, Thorne goes undercover as one of London's homeless in order to take down a serial killer who is targeting them. Meanwhile, his colleagues at the Serious Crime Unit are seeking the surviving members of a British tank squadron that murdered Iraqis during the first Gulf War. This fifth novel in the series "represents a return to form for the author after the mildly disappointing The Burning Girl," remarked Sennett.

Billingham's sixth novel in the series, Buried, revolves around a missing boy who is presumed kidnapped, despite the lack of ransom demands and the fact that the victim is sixteen years old—not the usual age for a kidnap case. Dave Faulkner of Time Out London online praised the novel's "down-to-earth realism," noting that "the banter between colleagues is spot-on."

In an interview with Jon Jordan for the online bookstore Mystery One, Billingham credited American writers for being his chief inspiration, and he counted among his favorite authors Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane, and George P. Pelecanos. Billingham feels that there is a natural relationship between his detective stories and his work as a comic writer and stand-up comedian. "I think humor is crucial in any kind of writing," he related, "and yes, strangely, the darker the subject matter the more this tends to be true. What is certainly true, and rather odd, is that writing crime fiction and performing comedy both use many of the same techniques. First off, a strong opening is really important…. Whether in a sweaty, smoky club or nestled in a favorite armchair, good money has been paid and the (listener's or reader's) attention has got to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck if you are not to be heckled off the stage or your novel discarded in favor of another." As for the future of his careers on stage and off, Billingham was optimistic: "I enjoy writing for both of these mediums. If either were to cease to be enjoyable I should stop doing it right now but that seems unlikely. For the present I get the best of both worlds. Death, blood, and terror. And then there's the crime writing."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 2003, Frank Sennett, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 1532; May 1, 2004, Frank Sennett, review of Lazybones, p. 1501; June 5, 2005, Frank Sennett, review of The Burning Girl, p. 1760; September 15, 2006, Frank Sennett, review of Lifeless, p. 30.

Bookseller, February 25, 2005, Benedicte Page, review of Lifeless, p. 30.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 28, 2002, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 1.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Sleepyhead, p. 694; May 1, 2004, review of Lazybones, p. 407; June 1, 2005, review of The Burning Girl, p. 601.

Library Journal, August, 2002, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of Sleepyhead, p. 140; June 1, 2003, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 163; June 15, 2004, Jane Jorgenson, review of Lazybones, p. 56; July 1, 2005, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of The Burning Girl, p. 63.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 2002, review of Sleepyhead, p. 32; May 12, 2003, review of Scaredy Cat, pp. 43-44; May 10, 2004, review of Lazybones, p. 35; June 6, 2005, review of The Burning Girl, p. 38.

Spinetingler, winter, 2006, Sandra Ruttan, interview with Billingham.

ONLINE

Book Bytes,http://www.bookbytes.com/ (March 28, 2004), reviews of Lazybones and Scaredy Cat.

Counterculture,http://www.counterculture.co.uk/ (March 28, 2004), Sion Smith, review of Sleepyhead.

Mark Billingham Home Page,http://www.markbillingham.com (July 3, 2007).

Mystery Ink,http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/ (July 3, 2007), Fiona Walker, review of The Burning Girl.

Mystery One Bookstore,http://www.mysteryone.com/ (March 28, 2004), Jon Jordan, interview with Billingham.

Shots,http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (July 3, 2007), Ali Karim, interview with Billingham.

Time Out London Online,http://www.timeout.com/ (May 22, 2006), Dave Faulkner, review of Buried.

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