Title: Die of Shame by Mark Billingham
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From British thriller master Mark Billingham, a recent finalist for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library, Die of Shame is a chilling story of addiction, subterfuge, and murder.
Every Monday evening, six people gather in a smart North London house to talk about shame. A respected doctor, a well-heeled housewife, a young male prostitute . . . they could not be more different. All they have in common is a history of addiction. But when one of the group is murdered, it quickly becomes apparent that someone else in that circle is responsible. The investigation is hampered by the strict confidentiality that binds these individuals and their therapist together, which makes things difficult for Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner, a woman who can appreciate the desire to keep personal matters private. If she is to find the killer, she will need to use less obvious means. The question is: What could be shameful enough to cost someone their life? And how do you find the truth when secrets, lies, and denial are second nature to all of your suspects?
Die of Shame, a standalone mystery by Mark Billingham, is an intriguing whodunit that also offers a fascinating peek into the world of recovery and addiction.
Each week, five disparate, recovering addicts attend a group therapy session in the home of their therapist Tony DeSilva. Robin Joffe, is an anesthesiologist who managed to salvage his career but not his marriage after he became addicted to drugs. Heather Finlay is both a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and she has also had a bit of trouble with a gambling addiction. Diana Knight used alcohol to cope with her divorce and now dealing with her daughter’s enmity and her ex-husband’s impending fatherhood with his girlfriend, she has turned into a compulsive shopper. Chris Clemence’s sobriety is tenuous as he struggles to secure housing and finds himself in financial straits due to his inability to maintain a budget. Newcomer Caroline Armitage is battling an addiction to prescription painkillers while also trying to take control of her overeating. Tony DeSilva is no stranger to addiction since he, too, once had a substance abuse problem but his current issues are much closer to home. His marriage is strained and his teenage daughter Emma is battling a few demons of her own. He is stunned to learn about the murder of one of his patients and much to Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner dismay, he is extremely protective of the remaining members of the group. Although DeSilva refuses to divulge any information about his clients or their last session, DI Tanner tirelessly works to solve the murder.
From very different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds, the therapy group members have forged a friendship of sorts outside of their sessions. They gather after their weekly meetings to discuss what happened during that evening’s therapy session and they also offer one another additional support. Some of the members have formed secondary friendships and they sometimes spend time together in purely social settings. After Caroline joins their weekly sessions, the dynamic between the original members begins to shift as she befriends everyone and while some of the changes are positive, tempers flare and suspicions grow after a few whispered suggestions stir up conflict.
Nicola has her work cut out for her during the murder investigation. DeSilva is not the only person who is not talking since the remaining support group attendees also adhere to the strict confidentiality guidelines for their sessions. However, bit by bit, Nicola begins to piece together the last therapy session that the victim attended and she is convinced the murder is somehow connected to this meeting. Although she has a viable working theory, obtaining the proof to back up her supposition is easier said than done, but Nicola tenaciously keeps working the case.
In addition to the chapters dedicated to the investigation and the various relationships among the therapy group, there are a few chapters that feature visits between an inmate and a mystery visitor. Their discussions are quite fascinating but it is impossible to understand how they figure into the murder and subsequent investigation. However, the intrigue surrounding these chapters becomes crystal clear when the killer’s identity is eventually revealed.
Die of Shame is a riveting mystery with a somewhat unusual storyline. Quite different than the typical police procedural, the novel mainly focuses on the characters and their struggles with the addiction. Mark Billingham once carefully conceals the perpetrator’s identity and motive for the crime with some brilliant misdirects and clever red herrings. Although not every thread is neatly wrapped up, readers will be satisfied with the novel’s conclusion. All in all, it is an absolutely phenomenal whodunit that fans of the genre are sure to love.