The Wrong Hands by Mark Billingham

3 Mins read
The Wrong Hands by Mark Billingham front cover

Last year Mark Billingham introduced us to the unpredictable Detective Sergeant Declan Miller in The Last Dance, a book that takes a different tone to the author’s Thorne novels. The Wrong Hands continues Declan’s story along with the mix of genres seen in the first book – part police procedural and part grief manual with humour scattered throughout. As you read this book, you will get the sense that Billingham enjoyed writing it, creating a plot and characters that are anything but mystery novel stereotypes.

The setting is Blackpool, the seaside town in Northwest England, but Billingham avoids the bright lights and the seafront and chooses to share with us the less scenic parts of the town. In the train station, two hapless crooks are plotting a robbery that will take place in the men’s toilets. Despite their incompetence, they manage to steal a briefcase and what’s inside is of great interest to several key players both in the police and in the crime world – organised and otherwise.

Probably the most dangerous person in search of the briefcase is a hitman that goes by a variety of names all starting with the initials DD. He needs the briefcase as it contains evidence that he completed a job. No proof means no payment. He is not above killing anyone who gets in his way. On the surface, DD appears a cold-hearted killer, yet he is obsessed with the TV show Midsomer Murders. He also enjoys writing lists about diverse topics such as his favourite drinks and things people have said to him just before they died. Author Mark Billingham does a good job balancing the menace with the mirth.

Declan is haunted by his dead wife, Alex, and suspects that a criminal operator interested in the case has information about her murder. Ralph Massey started out as Miss Coco Popz, a drag queen. He uses his entertainment empire as a convenient smokescreen for his money laundering business. Don’t let his fun persona fool you. He is hard as nails but is also willing to share information about the case if it will help bring down his main competitor in Blackpool, Wayne Cutler.

Cutler is very protective of his territory. If someone crosses the line, he will take steps to remove that individual. The trouble is he’s under police surveillance and wants to ensure there is nothing in the case that can be tied to him. Of all the villains in The Wrong Hands, Wayne is closest to the stereotype.

Declan is an interesting man. He is a smart detective who doesn’t always play well with his colleagues. This is not to say that he fits the mould of the hardboiled loner detective. He is determined to discover who was responsible for Alex’s death. She was a detective too. In his spare time, he is not drinking himself into oblivion. Instead, he enjoys ballroom dancing with his friends; looking out for his step-daughter, Finn; playing with his pet rats Ginger and Fred; and conversing with Alex.

The missing briefcase is a chance for Declan to continue his personal investigation into her murder. He thinks the team assigned to her case are not making any progress and takes any opportunity he can to challenge the team. His relationship with his partner, Sara Xiu, has grown into a mutual respect of one another. She has become accustomed to his sense of humour and even makes the occasional joke herself. There are some genuine moments of friendship between Declan and Sara that give depth to their characters.

The Wrong Hands does lead us closer to the truth about Alex, though the intensity of the novel diminishes after information related to her case is revealed. There is a strong sense of closure at the end of the book but hopefully the series and Declan’s own story will continue.

Click here for more reviews of books by Mark Billingham.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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