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Literature / The Business Of Dying

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Simon Kernick wrote the detective-myster novel The Business of Dying in 2002. It's the first novel to feature Dennis Milne, who becomes the protagonist for further novels.

One rainy November evening finds Dennis Milne, who is a full-time police officer and part-time hitman, in the parking lot of the Traveller's Rest Hotel and waiting for his latest targets, a trio of drug dealers. His targets arrive and he goes about his business of killing them, and then heads home and ready to go about his regular, daily life.

The next day, Dennis finds out that the men he killed were not drug dealers, as his contactman had told him, but two customs officers and a civilian. With the shock still setting in, he also gets assigned the case of a murdered prostitute by the name of Miriam Fox.

While investigating the Miriam Fox case, Dennis delves into the red-light district of London and learns of a connection between Miriam's death, a welfare house for wayward children, and his contactman, Raymond Keen. With his double-life beginning to overlap, Dennis is determined to get to the bottom of this business and retain his freedom — as well as his life, for he can tell that he's got a target on his back.


Contains examples of

  • Alpha Bitch: Miriam Fox. She came from a rich and politically-influential home, which made her haughty and consider herself above other people. Further revelations about her show that she was a very nasty person, overall.
  • Asshole Victim: Miriam Fox is merely the beginning of the list. There's also Alan Kover and Dr Roberts, who both have molested children in the past; Raymond Keen is a corrupt and slimey funeral proprietor, and has filmed child pornography; and Nigel Grayley, who is not only a corrupt customs executive and has a large deal of illegal immigrants going on, but has also raped and killed several minors.
  • Blackmail: This was a preferred strategy of Miriam Fox. She blackmailed Dr Roberts about his molestations of the Coleman House children, as well as his part in Nigel Grayley's deal in having some kids disappear. She also blackmailed Carla Graham about her job as a call girl.
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  • Blackmail Backfire: Miriam's blackmailing habits hit back hard. She gets killed because of her knowledge about the deal with the children. And Carla chooses to ignore Miriam's threats of exposing her as a call girl because she doesn't care much and thinks that nobody would believe a 'drugged-up junkie prostitute' like her.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The book begins by telling the story of a child molester. Said child molester turns out to be Alan Kover, who not only killed Miriam Fox, but also Dr Roberts and Carla Graham, and gives Dennis the clue that Raymond is connected to these deaths.
  • Dirty Cop: Dennis Milne. He became jaded with his job as a police officer and began to do small, bad little things that are frowned upon. This includes selling some confiscated drugs or using them to incriminate difficult-to-catch criminals.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The stance that many take about the prostitutes, whether they are minors or of legal age. This apathy is exactly why Nigel Grayley's victims were chosen among the wayward, young prostitutes, knowing that nobody would worry about their disappearances.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Dennis has his moral standards that he holds himself to. He doesn't want to hurt innocent civilians, and only ever killed people who were the absolute scum of the earth. He believes that having these standards gives him the right to voice his opinions on others, despite not being innocent himself. The fact that his recent targets were decent people gives him quite some grief.
  • Harmful to Minors
    • Most of the kids in Coleman House have had bad family lives. Some of the young girls even prostitute themselves, which includes Anne Talyor and Miriam Fox.
    • Molly Hagger had it especially bad. From the age of four onward, she had been sexually abused by her mother and her boyfriend. It's left her with quite a mature way of dealing with sex, but also with heavy dislike towards any authority. Then she gets kidnapped, sexually abused by a corrupt customs executive, and killed.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses
    • Dennis Milne used to be a very idealistic police officer. He always had a strong sense of justice and wanted nothing more than to keep civilians safe and make sure that criminals were getting their just dessert. Over the years, he became cynical about the job and how restricted he is in actually helping people, especially when he shot and killed a man during a hostage case, and realized that he didn't care. It's one reason why he became acquainted with Raymond Keen and began his double-life.
    • Carla Graham was just as idealistic when it came to her job as a social worker, wanting to help kids from bad backgrounds and assisting them in realizing that they can have a good life regardless, but she has the same restrictions and lots of kids aren't grateful for any help. She was also married at the time, but her husband began to see another woman and they eventually got a divorce, which left her alone and quite poor. The latter is a reason why she chose to try out escorting.
  • Karma Houdini: Dennis ends up heading to the Philippines to start a new life, despite having killed multiple people and being officially recognized as a suspect for the Traveller's Rest Hotel case.
  • Living a Double Life
    • Dennis Milne. He's a decent police officer, albeit being on the cynical side, and also a hitman. His colleagues on the force know nothing about this, though Welland seems to be aware of the little underhanded deals Dennis has made.
    • Carla Graham reveals to be leading one, too, being an escort.
  • My Greatest Failure: Dennis fells that Carla's death was something he could have prevented, had he not jumped to conclussions and been less abrupt when first seeing things.
  • Never Found the Body: The fate of Molly and all the other children that were killed.
  • Parental Incest: After Dennis and Malik finish talking to Miriam Fox's parents, they wonder if something like this may have occured between Miriam and her father. Carla eventually makes another mention about this later on, though nothing beyond these implications is ever revealed.
  • Police are Useless: Downplayed. They are doing their jobs with any information and clues available to them, but lack of police force and legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do hinders them. Although they are a little too intent on getting Mark Wells convicted of Miriam Fox's death, despite having flimsy evidence, inconsistencies and unanswered questions.
  • Red Herring Shirt: Anne Taylor is introduced as one of the many children from Coleman House and does prostitute herself, despite her young age. She admits to knowing Miriam and Molly a little, and almost gets kidnapped by a suitor, before she disappears and is feared to be the next victim. She turns out to be alright, having run away from Coleman House and having her fun, before returning.
  • Saying Too Much: Carla Graham eventually lets slip a detail about Miriam's murder that was never released to public, which strengthens Dennis' belief that she's involved in it. She isn't. She only knew the detail because Dr Roberts let it slip, who did have a hand in her death.
  • Scary Black Man: Mark Wells is a very tall and buff black man, whose presence already radiates intimidation and aggression. Several characters denote stories of him having become violent with people that crossed him.
  • Tap on the Head: Averted on all occassions.
  • Villain Protagonist: Dennis Milne. No matter what his standards are, he has killed people in the past, and some of his actions near the end of the novel become pretty reprehensible.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Dr Roberts is mentioned to have a pleasant, rather high-pitched and soft voice. He uses this to impersonate a woman's voice when planting evidence against Mark Wells.

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