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The Last Dance, Mark Billingham

Over more than twenty years, millions of crime fiction readers have come to know and love Mark Billingham’s crusading, music-loving, curry-eating London detective Tom Thorne. Those novels have covered increasingly weighty themes, especially in recent years, from press intrusion to ‘honour killing’, and recent bestseller The Murder Book appeared to close the chapter on a long-running antagonist introduced way back in his second novel, Scaredy Cat.

When better, then, for Billingham to showcase his chops for both humour and emotion with a completely new series and a very different detective, DS Declan Miller. His first appearance comes in The Last Dance, in which Billingham ushers us into the somewhat grimy, neon-lit world of Blackpool, where gangsters rub shoulders with ballroom dancers (often one and the same person). The case – of two men, strangers, killed in neighbouring hotel rooms – will keep you guessing, but the real star of the book is Miller himself. Returning to work (clearly far too soon) after the murder of his wife, Miller uses his fast, dry and frequently spiky wit as a defence mechanism, leading both to laughs for the reader and profoundly awkward moments for his new partner, Sara Xiu. He rides a moped, dances a mean quickstep, keeps pet rats… and still sees visions of his wife, convinced he can solve the mystery of her killing.

Billingham’s brilliance is how he balances this humour and the darkness of the central storyline with the genuinely felt emotion around Miller’s family situation and the wonderful warmth of his ballroom dancing friends. It’s a mixture that very few authors could pull off, but Billingham does, and then some. No wonder Richard Osman calls him ‘The best in the business’.


Ed Wood

Publishing Director, Little Brown Book Group