DYING LIGHT is the follow-up book to the much talked about and acclaimed COLD GRANITE and it maintains the high standard that the first book in the series reached.
It is summer in Aberdeen, the sun is shining and it is not raining anywhere near as much as it does in winter. With his love life sort of looking up and his working life running pretty well par for the course, the major downsides to the entire season seem to be that somebody is killing prostitutes and DS Logan McRae has been moved to DI Steel's "Screw-Up" squad. One botched raid, one severely injured uniformed PC and Logan's gone from Police Hero to another Internal Affairs investigation in the blink of an eye.
The focus of this book switches from DI Insch and his team (although he is still there and working on a fatal arson attack) to DI Steel and her Screw-Up Squad. DI Steel is a totally different prospect to deal with. She's abrasive, touchy, pushy and extremely unconventional. Logan's Number One priority is getting out of the Screw-Up Squad and the best way to do that seems to be a quick resolution to the increasing number of prostitute murders. Number Two priority is to try and keep his love life intact. Number Three priority is to keep avoiding journalist Colin Miller. Number Four priority is to survive another Internal Affairs investigation and keep from getting fired.
In the first book of the series, the weather was almost like another character, providing a great backdrop for the general miserableness of the crimes. In this book the summer setting, albeit slightly damp, provides a contrast for the crimes and the mood of the investigators in both Insch and Steel's teams.
DYING LIGHT is a solid, twisting police procedural with some short-lived sequences of quite graphic violence. This violence and the pitch perfect gallows humour that MacBride uses remind the reader that there is some real substance to the world being written about. The characters are very real. You feel like all of them would be instantly recognisable if you strolled in the Aberdeen nick, the local bar, the morgue or down the docks late at night.
Sometimes a second book, particularly one so close on the heels of such an impressive first novel can feel a little flat, or a little directionless. The trick of moving the focus on the DI's and their teams adds a freshness to the supporting characters and to Logan's personal interactions with his colleagues that really worked extremely well. After the sheer pleasure of reading DYING LIGHT you will be instantly left wondering where MacBride is going with the next one and very eager to find out.
COLD GRANITE - Stuart MacBride
COLD GRANITE is one of those debut books that come along and slowly cause a stir of comment and discussion in crime fiction forums. So much commentary just makes you want to get that book that everyone is talking about, but at the same time you often wonder if there's a chance that it's all noise and not much substance. COLD GRANITE is all substance.
On his first day back from extended medical leave, DS Logan just wants to get through his first day and hand responsibility back to his new DI. Despite needing to ease himself back into the job Logan finds himself investigating who is killing children. Just to add insult to injury the Chief Pathologist is his former girlfriend and her reception is just about as inviting as the Aberdeen weather in the middle of winter.
Getting himself back into the routine and back into the teams proves problematic for Logan. He's got to contend with a new DI who has an addiction to lollies, a problem with fools and a tendency to assume everyone is one. DI Steel is a well known womaniser who ends up with all sorts of political problems when a trial goes pear-shaped. WPC Watson is assigned as Logan's new babysitter, and she doesn't have the reputation of a ball-breaker for nothing. There's a new journalist in town and he's cocky and pushy. Somebody is leaking stories and Miller, the journalist, just can't seem to keep away from Logan. Children keep dying and disappearing and Internal Affairs seem to be very interested in Logan. All in all, things are not what Logan wanted or needed.
COLD GRANITE uses the weather almost as a character in its own right - it's used to enhance mood and atmosphere in a very engaging way. You feel the weather just as you feel the character's reactions and follow their desperate attempts to stop children dying.
Despite a difficult central subject, the murder of children, the author pulls off a light touch and a level of humour which isn't always just black and feels almost expected. This is a police procedural, but a good, varied story that uses the procedural elements as a framework and builds in details of the characters, their lives and their reactions in a manner that makes everyone human and many many of the people extremely likeable. There are sufficient sub-threads to add texture and realism to the environment and all of those sub-threads are finalised or pulled together elegantly at the end and there's no sense of rush to finish off the book. The language is sufficiently fluid and fluent to keep you engaged but the book does not smack of over-writing or the tendency of some first books to include all the ideas an author has ever had.
Add to that some clever twists and this is a pleasingly strong debut novel and one seriously good read.
THE SACRED BONES - Michael Byrnes
THE SACRED BONES is another entry in the recently well-populated field of confrontational religious themed thrillers. When a well armed, well organised small group break through the walls of the mosque in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem they appear to have been very well informed. Blowing a hole in the wall in exactly the right place to reveal an unknown burial crypt, they move straight past a number of ossuaries taking only the one deepest in the chamber. Their escape, facilitated by a stolen Israeli helicopter, leaves Palestinians outraged over the desecration of sacred ground and Israeli's equally outraged over the deaths of thirteen soldiers during the resulting fire-fight.
In the meantime Italian anthropologist Giovanni Bersei and American geneticist Charlotte Hennesey have been summoned to Vatican City to analyse a mysterious archaeological treasure that could prove to be one of the greatest secrets, the ossuary contains a human skeleton, approximately 2,000 years old, obvious speared, obviously crucified. Forces within Vatican City are very troubled over the existence of the skeleton and the implications to the very foundations of belief.
Starting out reading THE SACRED BONES it was very very hard to shake the feeling that if you can manage to offend 3 major worldwide religions then you've got the possibility of a run away best seller. Fortunately the story helps a little in dispelling that fear as, frankly, there's some points of supposed scientific revelation in here that were impossible for this reader (no doctor / geneticist granted) to swallow. Maybe part of the reason for that was some credibility gaps for the main "experts", who seemed to ask questions and make statements that just didn't stack up, maybe part of the reason was that the story had elements that were just too way out to be feasible and hence, the book read as an outrageous over the top thriller.
And as an over the top thriller there were some really funny elements - two of the main characters in severe danger of dying in a hail of sniper bullets, and the scenes around the destruction of the car they were driving were laid out in such detail it was hilarious. The time it takes for the two experts to eventually have the discussion about "whose bones do you think they could be" - the reader can have a wonderful time playing "go on ... say it .. I dare you" games. The sinister security consultant for the Vatican "lurking" around in the shadows everywhere that Charlotte goes, who then conveniently leaves doors open for discoveries to be made. The much commented on loveliness of Charlotte - more homely geneticists obviously would not qualify for this particular task. The Irish (yes Irish) priest, with the murderous background who manages to kill a lurking, dangerous killer in the middle of Rome with seemingly nobody noticing. All great over the top stuff.
THE SACRED BONES might not make it as an entrant in the encouraging controversy stakes but for a totally over the top, really silly bit of light entertainment, it was good fun to play spot the cliché in.