The Burning Girl is the fourth book in Billingham’s DI Tom Thorne series. It begins with a flashback to a case twenty years ago, in which Carol Chamberlain arrested a man who was later convicted of burning school girl, Jessica Clarke. When she starts receiving cold calls, and pieces of fabric from the skirt Jessica was wearing on the day she was burned, she asks Tom Thorne for help, believing that there was much more to this crime than first appeared. In doing so, she invites him into the dark world of the North London gangs: the gangs who are embarking on a bitter turf war. As the turf war escalates, people are killed, including those who are innocent. Can Thorne and Chamberlain see beyond the gang’s politics and find out what really happened twenty years ago?
Gang culture is not a topic with which I am particularly familiar, so I was slightly apprehensive as I started to read that I would find it difficult to appreciate the intricacies of the plot and struggle to connect with the characters. However, these fears were, for the most part, unfounded as The Burning Girl is incredibly well researched. This enables Billingham to convey the conflict realistically, and enables the reader to become engaged in the dynamics of the gang politics. The plot unravels slowly, which allows readers like me who are relatively inexperienced in the subjects about which Billingham writes, to gain a clear picture of what is happening. This helped to build tension, which kept me reading to the end.
As The Burning Girl is the fourth book in the series, the reader is by now fairly familiar with Thorne and his team, their individual methods of working and their quirks and personality traits. Over the course of the series, I have enjoyed reading about the characters as they have developed and have been able to relate to them. However, as the content of the novel became darker, Thorne sometimes acted in ways which seemed out of character. This made me feel uncomfortable, and it was necessary, at certain points, to suspend my belief. I hope that these aspects of Thorne’s character will be developed in the sequel, so that his actions are given a context which reinstates the connection I had felt with the character in previous novels.
Overall, I enjoyed The Burning Girl and look forward to reading the fifth instalment in the series.
The Burning Girl is available on Amazon.