What a treat. This is a prequel to Billingham’s excellent and long-running crime series, showing his protagonist Tom Thorne as a young detective sergeant in 1996, haunted by a horrific crime he couldn’t prevent, and desperate to find a seven-year-old boy who has just gone missing. ... Cry Baby works as a way into the series for sure, but it’s even more entertaining for us old aficionados to see the origin story of Billingham’s hero, watching him become the man who would make his debut in Sleepyhead.
Although billed as a prequel to Sleepyhead, Cry Baby has nothing to do with the events described in Thorne’s debut. It concerns the abduction of a seven-year-old boy from Highgate Wood in north London that soon leads to the murder of a grown-up. Billingham has never underplayed the distress of the victims of crime; Thorne’s dealings with the boy’s mother are one of the highlights of the novel.
As always, Billingham’s sense of place — in this case “the grim, grey ribbon of the Holloway Road” — is palpable. The tense, double-edged, ending shows he has become one of Britain’s best crime writers.