Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 May 2023 from Sphere
My thanks to Laura Sherlock and Sphere Books for an advance copy for review
Meet Detective Miller: unique, unconventional, and criminally underestimated…
He’s a detective, a dancer, he has no respect for authority - and he’s the best hope Blackpool has for keeping criminals off the streets. Meet Detective Declan Miller.
A double murder in a seaside hotel sees a grieving Miller return to work to solve what appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Just why were two completely unconnected men taken out?
Despite a somewhat dubious relationship with both reality and his new partner, can the eccentric, offbeat Miller find answers where his colleagues have found only an impossible puzzle?
I saw Mark Billingham on Saturday at Glasgow’s Literature Festival, Aye Write. He is, of course,always interesting. And he has a special brand of humour that really resonates with me.
It’s that brand of humour, that voice, that I can hear coming through in Detective Declan Miller, a brand new protagonist from a master of crime fiction.
There’s something immensely endearing about this character of Declan Miller. If you are a Coronation Street fan, as I am, you will remember the immensely poignant scene in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom that resonates as our lasting memory of the sheer love and happiness that was Roy and Hayley.
I think Mark Billingham must have been channelling that scene when he wrote The Last Dance. Detective Declan Miller’s wife, Anna – also a Detective, was murdered. It is just six weeks before he decides he can no longer stand his pet rats Fred and Ginger as his only company and returns to work. Anna’s death is being investigated by another team and Miller’s frustration at being excluded from their thinking is driving him to distraction. Anna and Declan were ballroom dancers and they had built up a small but select group of fellow enthusiasts as friends. It is this group that sustains Miller through his very raw grief.
He is given a new partner, Detective Sergeant Sara Xiu – pronounced ‘jus’ and Miller instantly gives her a nickname. While others investigate the murder of Miller’s wife, he and Xiu are sent to investigate a double murder in a Blackpool hotel. Two men in adjacent rooms, have been shot in what looks like an execution style hit. One of the men, Adrian Cutler was a local gangster, while the other, Barry Shepherd worked as an IT Consultant. At first glance, it seems that they have nothing in common and Miller suggests that perhaps the killer first went to the wrong room before finding Cutler who surely must have been the intended victim? To add to the mystery, Declan’s wife Alex was investigating the Cutler family before she was killed.
Partly as a means of grief deflection and partly just his nature, Declan Miller wisecracks his way through this book to the consternation of both his new partner and the rest of his squad. I liked Xiu. She gives as good as she gets and she isn’t going to sit back and just let Miller run the show. Their partnership is one of opposites but they are learning to work together and the beginnings are promising. Declan Miller is a character that is going to live in my mind for a long time.
As for the case – well it has some great characters and the rival gangs that are working in Blackpool add to the tension of what is already and explosive situation. Everyone is a suspect and Billingham throws in red herrings so copiously you will worry about the price of fish going up. At the same time, Miller is not so subtly looking into his wife’s death and his actions have disturbing repercussions.
Verdict: A cracking start to a brand new series. The Last Dance is funny, emotional, thrilling and leaves you needing more. Billingham is such a strong storyteller. I loved it.
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Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Crime Novel of the Year, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller. Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne, and a series based on the novels In the Dark and Time of Death was broadcast on BBC1. Mark lives in north London with his wife and two children.