In Mark Billingham’s The Demands, Detective Sargent Helen Weeks is a new mom whose life has already been touched by personal violence with the murder of her child’s father. When teenage thugs harass a local newsagent, Javed Akhtar, she hesitates when it comes to getting involved- hoping he can resolve the issue without her help. Little does she know that the newsagent, a grieving father, has an agenda of his own. It involves holding her and another customer hostage while demanding that Detective Tom Thorne investigate the alleged suicide of his son in prison. Thorne races to find answers for Akhtar before either of the hostages can come to harm.
Sigh. I have found another mystery series to add to the growing list of detective series where I have some catching up to do. Thorne is pretty much all that both women and men love in their hero detective. He’s smart, doesn’t play by all the rules and he cares about the people involved in his cases – he wants to find justice for them. I also got the feeling that he was probably pretty easy on the eyes. Never a bad thing.
Anyway, the case is complex and Billingham touches upon ethnic and religious tensions in London as Akhtar is convinced that the country to which he has dedicated his life has rushed to the easy conclusion in the death of his son. There is definitely evidence of discrimination as Thorne re-investigates all the angles of the altercation that led Akhtar’s son to be imprisoned in the first place, but other troubling angles arise in which privilege and sexuality play important roles. Accompanying the tense hostage scenes and the action of the developing investigation are the interior lives of both Thorne and Weeks. Thorne is pondering the aftermath of his latest failed relationship and Weeks is still lost and grieving over her own partner’s death before they were able to resolve their troubled relationship.
While it’s hard to feel empathy for a man who would take hostages to achieve his aims, Billingham manages to make Akhtar understood, if not championed. The Demands is deftly plotted and well-written and makes for a read that is both thoughtful and suspense filled. Readers who are new to the Thorne series will have no problems jumping right in. Highly Recommended.