The Wrong Hands by Mark Billingham

Reviewed by Rod McLary

One of the common tropes of crime fiction is the quirkiness of the key protagonist – whether a detective or police officer or private investigator.  The protagonist in this book – Detective Sergeant Declan Miller – bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have any quirks; quite overlooking the fact that he has two pet rats Fred and Ginger and is a member of a dance group [hence the names of his rats].  What’s more, he has a very quirky sense of humour which has brought him close to disciplinary actions by his superior officers on more than one occasion.  But his saving grace is that he is a very good detective.

The narrative begins with a low-key attempted crime.  Two small-time criminals Andy Bagnall and Keith Slack plan to steal a briefcase from a businessman – any business man – as he relieves himself at the railway station toilets.  The briefcase’s contents could be a laptop, a wallet or an expensive mobile phone.  They manage to grab a briefcase and take off but – and it is a very big ‘but’ – the plan doesn’t quite work out.  While initially they do get away, they have chosen the wrong target and certainly do not end up with a laptop or mobile phone they can pawn.  What they find in the briefcase is a pair of hands clearly separated from the body to which they once belonged.  But whose body?  That is the question.

What would have been a job for the uniformed police now becomes one for DS Miller and his partner DS Sara Xiu.  DS Xiu has her own quirks – an obsession with heavy metal music and regularly attends raves to hear the music and to find ready and willing sexual partners.  But together, DS Miller and DS Xiu are a formidable team.

DS Miller’s backstory includes the murder of his wife Alex – also a police officer – six months previously and in the line of duty.  No one has yet been identified as the killer and DS Miller believes the investigation has stalled.

By a cat-and-mouse series of incidents, the briefcase with its contents end up in Miller’s hands and he soon discovers their provenance and who may have been involved in their separation from their owner.  This leads him back to the unsolved murder of his wife.  Added tension comes from another person chasing the briefcase – this time the hitman who desperately needs the hands as proof of a job well-done and thus receive his fee.

What ensues is a thrilling and tense chase as the paths of the key players intersect and collide – always moving closer and closer to the dénouement.  The killers – and there are more than one – while perhaps sociopathic are also cunning and devious and this stretches DS Miller’s and DS Xiu’s detective skills to the limit.

The Wrong Hands has a great deal in its favour – an engaging and quirky protagonist with a sense of humour, plenty of tension and thrills, good detective work, unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and backstories which add to the characterisation – all of which add up to a great piece of crime fiction.   The quality of the writing is a bonus and makes the novel a pleasure to read.

It is well recommended.

The Wrong Hands


by Mark Billingham

Little Brown

ISBN 978 140872 636 5

$32.99; 416pp


🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top