“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
This is how THE DYING HOURS ends and pretty much where Tom Thorne’s latest outing, THE BONES BENEATH begins. Those who have already read the new book will know that the bad news is not so much a ‘what’ as a ‘who’ and is just about the worst news Thorne could receive. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous killer he has ever put away is ready to reveal the whereabouts of one of his earliest victims. The price Thorne must pay for rejoining the Murder Squad is that he must escort Nicklin to a remote location and bring back the body.
If the body is there to be found, of course.
The location in question was always going to be hugely important. I needed somewhere isolated, that would be hard to reach; somewhere a long way outside Thorne’s comfort zone that would perfectly suit some of the unpleasant things I had planned for him when he got there. After racking my brains for weeks, my wife suggested an island she had heard about growing up in North Wales. An island with a lighthouse which she had seen winking at her across Cardigan Bay as she stared out of her bedroom window. Using my wife’s Welsh connections (The Taffia, if you will) and her ability to speak the language, we secured a crossing in the depths of Winter, 2013. Within a few minutes of setting foot on Bardsey Island (Ennis Ynlli), I knew I had found the perfect place to set the book.
The island is a mile and a half long and a mile wide and I spent the day walking every inch of it. I explored the damp cottages, the uninviting stretches of beach, the rocks crowded with seals. I climbed the lighthouse and clambered into the caves. I took photos and I scribbled in a notebook…
For most of the year, Bardsey is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also a place of pilgrimage and said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent.
Bardsey is a tricky place on which to conduct a high-security police operation and is not exactly conducive to complex forensic investigations. There is no mains electricity or running water. Accommodation is basic at the best of times. It is a place where Thorne feels uncomfortable in every sense, well aware that the man he is escorting knows it very well; that a dangerous opponent has the advantage.
An isolated island that rings to the screams of seals when darkness falls. A killer who knows the territory and a copper out of his depth.
Bones beneath their feet…
Oh, and one another thing that make Bardsey Island the perfect place to set a mystery. The nearest CCTV camera is a long way away and there is mobile phone signal.
For a crime-writer, that is seriously good news.
The Bones Beneath is published in the UK on the 22nd May.
To find out more on Tom Thorne and Mark Billingham, please take the time to visit Mark’s website.