Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine: The Other Half

Crime writer Mark Billingham and country band My Darling Clementine come together for The Other Half, a blend of storytelling and music about love, loneliness and broken promises. From behind a lectern, Billingham tells the story of Marcia, a waitress in a rundown bar in Memphis. She, and through her, the audience, observes the habits and lives of regulars, living somewhat vicariously through their stories, listening to and attempting to fix their troubles. Marcia also has a story of her own, with a trampled, glittered past as a dancer in Vegas. But with her best years behind her she faces an empty future ahead and an empty home to return to. Billingham invites us to see the world through Marcia's eyes, of disappointment, drunkenness and disarray, explaining that “there were so many roads that led to being alone.”

The sense of place effectively developed through Billingham's use of the vernacular, and the band, makes for an enjoyable night out, at times moving, jaunty and witty.

With his amiable yet sardonic delivery, Billingham clearly enjoys himself as he runs through, and occasionally plays with, the cliches of country music characters, with themes covering infidelity, familial breakdown, and dying hopes of love forsaking all. These short tales are broken up and connected by the married twosome that make up My Darling Clementine. Lou Dalgleigh's voice stands out as she sings clearly and effortlessly, hitting the right tone for each song. In No matter what Tammy says, a powerful yet catchy song about domestic abuse, she starts off sultrily almost whispering, and ending soaring as in the best kind of power ballad. The lyrics are often touching, for example in exploring the feelings behind an affair in The other half, as Dalgleish despairs, “one and one is two it's true but I still hold a fraction of you, but it will never be as much as she.” A couple of jaunty numbers, for example in Going Back to Memphis and There's No Heart in this Heartache provide touches of humour and keep the pace foot-tapping along.

Billingham explains that his love of country music has led him to place it throughout his books, and here, having Marcia's bar as a magnet for all of lonely humanity is a neat concept to tie all the songs together, allowing the different stories to be brought around one conceptual space. However, the execution is perhaps too broad, and with so many characters there is little space for any plot or development. Despite promising a story of “lust, murder and domestic horror,” the range of characters and the limited glimpse of each lessens the drama and capacity for emotional depth. Still, the sense of place effectively developed through Billingham's use of the vernacular, and the band, makes for an enjoyable night out, at times moving, jaunty and witty. 

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The Blurb

In this unique collaboration between the leading lights of crime fiction and country music, award-winning crime writer Mark Billingham and acclaimed Americana duo My Darling Clementine come together to present a dark and glorious mix of song and story. Pain, loss, violence. The lifeblood of crime fiction, but also the dark seam that runs through the very best country music. In a rundown Memphis bar, three couples tell their very different stories. The bliss and the heartbreak. Lust, murder and domestic horror. That long and painful search for the other half…