Written by Mark Billingham — Florida. The budget beach resort of Pelican Palms. Three couples from suburban London become acquainted while taking an Easter break. Amidst the Pina Coladas, oversized meal portions and sunburn, and on the eve of their departure, the teenage daughter of an American holiday maker goes missing. Despite an intense police search, the girl, who has learning difficulties, cannot be found. The six Britons catch their flights back to Gatwick having made casual plans to meet up again back in the UK.
The couples are reunited at a dinner party and an edgy relationship begins to develop. Angie and Barry have initiated the reunion. Barry is a reluctant partner in a family building business, with an abrasive ex-wife. Angie is more easy-going, worries about her weight, and is envious of Sue, the slim and sophisticated wife of Eddie – a salesman for a publishing company. Dave writes computer games and is the partner of Marina, a sensual woman of mixed race who works as a dental receptionist but has ambitions to be an actress and a writer. Angie has been following the case of the missing girl on the internet and not long after the dinner party she learns that the body of Amber Marie Wilson has been found floating in a Florida swamp.
Back in Sarasota, Detective Jeffrey Gardner has the thankless task of investigating Amber Marie’s disappearance. His colleagues have accepted that the girl is dead and Gardner’s main task is to try to persuade Amber Marie’s mother, Patti Lee, to give up her vigil at Pelican Palms and return home to Atlanta. When the body is discovered, Patti Lee does go home, and Gardner later accompanies the coffin on a flight back to Georgia. Now that the case is assumed to be a homicide, he contacts police in the UK for further details of the six Britons for routine enquiries. In London, this request is seen as a box-ticking exercise, and the task is given to an ambitious trainee Detective, Jenny Quinlan. She interviews the couples and reports back to Gardner. Just as Gardner is growing irritated by her enthusiasm the case takes a sinister turn. Another girl has gone missing. Another pupil of a Special School. But this time the disappearance is in Kent.
Mark Billingham is the best-selling author of the Tom Thorne novels, and Rush of Blood is a major departure from his usual fare. He swaps the gritty streets of central London for the more mundane cul-de-sacs and commuter routes of the suburbs. Hard bitten cop-talk and villain-speak are replaced by bloke-ish banter in the tennis club bar, and housewives chatting about hairstyles and recipes. It is a tribute to the author’s skill that this apparent banality barely conceals a potent mix of jealousy, anger and opportunist violence.
There is little successful detection in this book, but the backdrop to the crimes, which occupies much of the narrative, is like watching a cruelly perceptive play about the erosion of trust, petty disputes that turn bitter, and relationships that become chipped and tarnished by careless use. There is a dramatic upping of the pace towards the end, and avid readers of Billingham’s novels will love the terrific double twist in this tale, which is tightly wound enough to snap strings. I loved it that Tom Thorne makes the briefest, teasing appearance in the final act. This is an excellent book, with the author at the top of his game.
CFL Rating: 5 stars