Reviews - e-book and audiobook fiction: Mark Billingham, Melvyn Bragg and Benjamin Percy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 1:25pm

The Dying Hours

by Mark Billingham

Little, Brown


Mark Billingham's Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has, over the past decade and a half, become one of the most intriguing and reliable characters in modern British crime fiction. Demoted after the dramatic end of his last case ( Good as Dead), Thorne is back on the streets of London for the first time in 20 years - and he's not taking the reversal in his fortunes stoically. This makes life tough for his new romantic partner, Helen Weeks, but it also drives him to investigate a series of deaths - all by apparent suicide. Billingham shuffles his narrative deck with skill - between Thorne's tense home life, his sense of growing older and his relationship with trusty sidekick Phil Hendricks, and the gradual excavation of a case that hardly anyone wants him to investigate. Billingham has swapped the violent fireworks of his early books for quieter but no less powerful explorations of life in modern Britain. The finale on top of a London skyscraper provides an almost literal cliff-hanger - and sets up the next instalment perfectly. Extras: a profile of Mark Billingham.

Grace and Mary

by Melvyn Bragg

(read by Gordon Griffin, Sandra Duncan)

Hodder & Stoughton


Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg's long career talking about novels has co-existed with a longer career writing them: Grace and Mary is his 21st work of fiction. A meditation about memory, women's lives and Britain over the past century, the story is driven by the two titular characters. Set in Bragg's beloved Cumberland, the story is told, in part, as a conversation between Mary, now 92 years old and suffering from senile dementia, and her son John, a writer who feels a sudden need to record his mother's life and times. This he does by transcribing her erratic conversations and looking into her past: her illegitimate birth, the hard times of her own unmarried mother, Grace, and Mary's childhood in wartime England. Bragg's restrained prose is ably read by Gordon Griffin and Sandra Duncan, who alternate between John and Mary. Duncan does an especially fine job at rendering Mary's often confused present with her vivid past. The book is all the more powerful for being semi-autobiographical.

Red Moon

by Benjamin Percy

Hodder & Stoughton


Benjamin Percy's publishers have high hopes for Red Moon, a horror fantasy that tries to inject new life into a classic monster: the werewolf. In Percy's recasting, the Lycans have learned to control their lunar transformations and live, not as slavering beasts, but as an oppressed minority. They are present in the Holocaust, the war in Iraq and all over America. It is a smart, if less than original tactic: Battlestar Galactica played similar games with greater wit and vivacity. Our would-be-wolves include a teenage girl whose parents are murdered, the only heroic survivor of a plane crash and, gasp, even the US president. While Red Moon is absorbing, the audiobook is annoying thanks to Percy's voice. Its tone is so deep, ponderous and self-important I was convinced my download was playing at half speed. This slow rumble is probably meant to impart grandeur, but it only gives the impression Percy is rehearsing. To narrate. The film. Trailer. Of. RED MOON!!! Quit the narration, Benjamin. Your writing is fine without it.