|Detective Helen Weeks is settling back into her job after maternity leave with her young son Alfie. Each day she stops by the local news agent and buys a bottle of water, some chewing gum, chocolate, and a newspaper. This day as she is waiting in line to pay, several young teenage boys are causing a disruption. The shopkeeper, Mr. Akhtar, at first tries to deal calmly with the boys but they become abusive. He disappears for a few minutes only to reappear with a gun in his hand. He threatens the boys who run off. Mr. Akhtar quickly locks the door leaving only Helen and a man with the shopkeeper.
Mr. Akhtar announces that Helen and the man, Stephen Mitchell, are to be hostages. Helen is to get in touch with a certain detective, Tom Thorne with whom Akhtar wishes to communicate. For Akhtar to release Helen and Stephen, Thorne must reinvestigate the alleged suicide of Akhtarís son, Amin, and report back to him within a specified time period. Akhtar implies that he is sure his son did not commit suicide and that law enforcement officials are responsible for his sonís death.
Thorne soon discovers that there are several problems in the investigation. Several key witnesses have died in the year since Aminís death. In addition the boy that knew Amin best, Rahim Jaffer, refuses to talk to him. Thorne realizes that Jaffer has been in trouble with the law before but it appears that something else is providing a higher quotient of fear to the lad.
The level of fear and suspense that Mark Billingham has created in The Demands is enough to keep most readers neglecting other tasks to read just a bit further to reach a logical break which will never appear. The hostage situation continues to escalate throughout the book, and, as Thorne begins to find the threads that will ultimately lead to the answers, he encounters veiled threats from within the law enforcement community. His life as well as those of the hostages could also be in jeopardy.
The person that Billingham has created in Akhtar is an interesting one. Although oneís natural inclination is to dislike the man because he is threatening the lives of two completely innocent people, he gains our sympathy as we learn about the death of his youngest child. As an immigrant to Britain he has worked hard to earn an honest living. The system has not treated him well or, in fact, justly. Whether this conundrum permits him to take the law into his own hands is debatable.
The interplay between Helen and Akhtar provides food for thought. She thinks she knows this man fairly well as one does with those that we encounter every day. The establishment of the hostage situation changes her view of the man. At the same time she reevaluates her role as a single mother and her responsibility toward her young son as well as her position as a law enforcement officer. Billingham creates a scenario for which most adults can feel empathetic.
Although there are clearly bad guys and good guys in this thriller, most of the cast show both their positive and negative traits. They are human and muddle along as best they can. The result is a realistic novel one can enjoy and ponder over a bit when the final page has been turned.