Sunday, August 21, 2011
Stuart MacBride "Dark Blood"
The whole point of this book blogging exercise, at least as far as Hughesy is concerned, is to keep track of what's been read and what I thought about it, particularly when I'm looking at an on-going series that will more than likely be re-readi at some indeterminate point in the future.
It's been a while since the last Stuart MacBride title, and with nothing sitting in the archive about any of the preceding five stories in the Logan McRae series I found myself scratching my head fairly early into Dark Blood and wondering whether chain-smoking DI Roberta Steel, the out there and totally unashamed lesbian who leads the Screw-up Squad has been quite as gross in past episodes as she turns out to be here.
You wouldn't expect a female officer in a predominantly male culture like the police force to be a shrinking violet, but I don't recall DI Steel being quite as gross in earlier episodes as she's turning out to be here.
Maybe it's the external pressures of impending parenthood, but she seems to be passing off a substantial chunk of her case load onto DS Logan McRae, creating the territorial turf war with Detective Inspector Beardy Beattie that produces a fair chunk of the tension that's threatening to overwhelm McRae as the Grampians police are handed the responsibility of looking after the relocation of vicious rapist Richard Knox, native of Newcastle with roots in Aberdeen and a penchant for geriatric males.
Knox is a serial offender who might have done his time for the single offence the authorities have managed to pin on him, seems to have got through the prison system surprisingly unscathed, may or may not have found religion, but is definitely a nasty, dodgy and manipulative piece of work.
For some reason his relocation is being overseen by DSI Danby from Northumbria Police, the man who put Knox away but somehow has been transformed into his minder while volunteers from SACRO (Safeguarding Communities Reducing Offending) babysit Knox, and the Grampian Police monitor his security. Danby has a definite interest in something about Knox, though it takes a while before you pick up where he's coming from.
Much of the tension in the book comes from the fact that Knox is hardly the only matter of concern to the Grampians Police, and most of the other matters seem to be landing on Logan McRae's plate with three different superiors pushing him in three different directions, questioning his attitude while they do so. As McRae self-medicates the whole box and dice results in regular interviews with the Professional Standards unit.
Apart from looking after Knox there are issues as Edinburgh hard man Malk the Knife McLennan muscles into the Aberdeen property boom that's coming out of Donald Trump's golf course development, setting up the possibility of a turf war with local crime lord Wee Hamish Mowat. McRae's on the edge of that rivalry as Wee Hamish starts flowing financial largesse his way with envelopes of cash unenthusiastically delivered by Hamish's number one offsider, Reuben, though it's not immediately obvious why.
Then there's reporter Colin Miller, McRae's old sparring partner, who, among other little bombshells, splashes Knox's whereabouts on the front page of the paper. The headline produces waves of protest that end up with Knox's house (actually, it was his grandmother's, but she's long gone) burning down though Knox has been relocated in the meantime.
The key to the main plot line lies in the fact that Knox had been the accountant for the late and not entirely lamented Newcastle heavy Mental Mikey Maitland and presumably knows where his considerable fortune is hidden. Under those circumstances it's no wonder Knox is apparently able to call on outside help that brings about an escape from the “safe” house, where they've relocated him, and it's not long before Danby disappears under suspicious circumstances.
Actually, there are more than two missing persons. A third is Steele's unofficial/unauthorised informant Steve Polmont, gone missing working undercover on one of Malk the Knife's building sites.
As if that's not enough to be going on with, MacBride throws in counterfeit goods, fake banknotes, raids on jewellery shops involving sawn-off sledgehammers, a group of heavies from somewhere or other lurking on the periphery and a lawyer alleging malpractice in the interrogation department after a vindictive DI Beattie has doctored the documentation.
In other words there's plenty there to keep McRae hopping.
Enough, in fact, to have him hitting the bottle to the point where goth crime scene technician girlfriend Samantha is about to call it quits. MacBride handles all this with a deftness that keeps you turning the pages through a fast moving story line with plenty of dark humour and the occasional flatulence-induced belly laugh (and no, they're not all the work of McRae's colleague Biohazard Bob).
Through it all McRae continues to come across as a believable and likeable character who attracts the reader's sympathy as the pressure of his job, along with constant criticism in his personal and professional life produce an entirely understandable attitude problem.
When DI Beattie comes unstuck through his own incompetence I found myself hoping McRae would be getting a well-deserved promotion, though at the same time one hopes he doesn't since that would make DI Steele his equal rather than his superior, a situation that wouldn't have the same je ne sais quoi as the current set of circumstances