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Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham

First published in Great Britain in 2017; published by Grove Atlantic on June 20, 2017

Love Like Blood is set in today’s England, where violent crimes against minorities are on the increase after Brexit, which some saw as mandate to be vicious. Honor crimes are the specific theme — crimes typically committed against women who have “dishonored” a family by, for instance, having sex — and the low priority that the police give to those crimes.

The second plotline involves the murder of Susan Best, the lover of DI Nicola Tanner. Although Tanner cannot officially investigate her lover’s murder, she enlists the help of Tom Thorne to do just that. Tanner met Thorne in Die of Shame.

Tanner has been investigating a series of honor killings carried out by a pair of hit men. She thinks those hit men were paid to kill her, to end the investigation, but they bungled the job and killed Susan Best by mistake. Of course, she carries the burden of guilt since she assumes her job got her lover killed.

The two hit men, an Irishman and a Pakistani, are developed with enough depth to make them credible. The killers actually have more personality than Thorne or Tanner, both of whom are rather bland.

The investigation of the killings is interesting for a time, and then it becomes a bit tedious as the investigators cover the same ground again and again. Billingham seems to be in love with his own prose. The prose is just fine, but there’s too much of it. In this case (as was true in Die in Shame), a tighter novel would have been a better novel.

The most revealing chapter of Love Like Blood comes near the end, when a culprit explains why honor killings promote “family values” that communities have a right to protect when the government refuses to see things through the lens of their religion. The speech applies equally to members of every religion who believe that their “family values” should outweigh laws that protect all of society. The novel makes the telling point that too many people believe any antisocial behavior, from discrimination to murder, can be justified if it is hidden behind the cloak of religion. Civil law protects all of us from religious law when members of a religion inflict their values on others by engaging in unlawful behavior.

The police manage to solve the honor killings and, at the very end, Susan Best’s killing. The solution to Best’s killing is forced and hard to swallow. The story has enough good moments to make the novel a modest success, but shining a light on honor killings (which have apparently been increasing in the UK) gives this book its value.


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