Thorne: Scaredy Cat. And the first thing to note is that Billingham's sophomore effort is a better book all round than its predecessor. The confidence the author evidently gained in the writing of Sleepyhead is apparent from the off: Scaredy Cat is more focused, more propulsive, and actually works better as a story. And so, for the most part, does its television adaptation – right up to the point where it pisses it all up the wall.
I'll come back to how and why it does that in a bit. First though, the broad strokes of the plot. Scaredy Cat (the novel) finds DI Tom Thorne newly installed as second-in-command of Team 3, Serious Crime Group (West), with Detective Chief Inspector Russell Brigstocke (whom Thorne has known for ten years) in charge and Detective Constable Dave Holland and Detective Sergeant Sarah McEvoy bringing up the rear. Ostensibly Team 3 has been set up to investigate crimes that fall outside the remit of other parts of the Metropolitan Police Force, although the rumour is it's really been instated because no one knows quite what to do with Tom Thorne.
Of course, we the reader(s) are almost a step ahead of Thorne, because parts of Scaredy Cat are actually told from the perspectives of the killers, Stuart Nicklin and Martin Palmer. Indeed, the novel opens with Nicklin as he stalks Carol (pulling a neat switcheroo of expectations in the process), and then flashes back to successive moments from Nicklin and Palmer's childhoods, also involving another friend, Karen McMahon. The hold Nicklin has over Palmer is frighteningly plausible, and this in essence is what the book is all about: power, or the lack thereof. We follow Nicklin in the past, as he embraces his violent urges and divests himself of his identity, so that even when the hapless Palmer eventually gives himself up, distraught at the horrific nature of his crimes, he can't identify Nicklin because he has no idea what Nicklin's name is now (and neither do we, until the very end).
No, where the series really goes off the rails is in the third and final episode. In order to deal with that, however, I think I'd better throw in another one of these:
Now, I can't state this for certain, but I suspect I began to get an inkling of what the writers were intending to do earlier than the third episode. In the novel, Thorne's thoughts often return to the traumatised Charlie, wondering how he is, but the TV show keeps returning to him for a different reason, namely confusion over whether he saw one killer or two. This is made explicit in the third episode, when pathologist – and Thorne's mate – Phil Hendricks shows Charlie a combined picture of a photofit of Stuart Nicklin and a photograph of Martin Palmer, upon sight of which Charlie begins screaming... and at which point my underlying sense of disquiet turned to outright dread. Surely the writers couldn't be setting up what it looked like they were setting up... Could they?
That's right: Nicklin only exists in Martin Palmer's head, as a split personality.
Exactly as they did with Sleepyhead, at one stroke the writers of Thorne: Scaredy Cat – stand up and take a bow, Dudi Appleton and Jim Keeble – utterly undermine the story's theme and make a complete mockery of everything that's gone before. It is, in effect, a variation on that dreadful get-out clause, It Woz All A Dream. The writers, producers and director might just as well have taken the closing scene from Boxing Helena and stapled that on instead.
So there you go. That, in an overly wordy nutshell, is Thorne: Scaredy Cat. Still, no matter. The novel remains a cracking read, and by all accounts each subsequent book only gets better. And in the next couple of posts in this Billingham bonanza, I'll be showcasing some of the first editions of those novels I've picked up in charity shops over the past few months....
(And skip along to here to see a comment from Mr. Billingham himself on this post and its sequels...)