Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Blood Road, by Stuart MacBride.

        The Scottish city of Aberdeen has the worst weather in the U.K., if not the world.  It never stops raining, from the gentle pitter-pattery misty kind to the driving, horizontal, attacking, sleety stuff guaranteed to freeze Logan MacRae to the marrow as he ponders his ‘promotion’ in Police Scotland to Inspector in the Professional Standards division, a job he is unsure if he actually enjoys.  He really should be out catching crims, rather than policing his own colleagues – it doesn’t seem right somehow, as evidenced by the change in said colleagues’ attitudes.  They scuttle past him in the corridors with minimum eye-contact and he now sits by himself in the pub, not at the rowdy table. 
            Until Detective Sergeant Lorna Chalmers, whose unsatisfactory  behaviour he is investigating in relation to several linked child abduction cases is found hanging in her garage, an apparent suicide, and because Police Scotland is woefully short-staffed, not to mention copping the flak from the media at its inability to solve the child disappearances, Logan is seconded to investigate Chalmers’ suicide and an even bigger mystery:  the return (temporarily) from the dead of Detective Duncan ‘Ding-Dong’ Bell, found murdered in a rental car a couple of days before Chalmers’ suicide.  To say that most of the police force is in shock is no exaggeration, especially as most of them had attended Ding-Dong’s funeral two years before.  That was a suicide too.  It’s hard to know where to start and who to question, and which of the investigations should get the most of Police Scotland’s scarce manpower:  Logan’s job sucks.
            And the rain keeps falling – and rumours keep surfacing of a Livestock Mart, a terrible auction of kidnapped children bid for by paedophiles for sexual pleasure;  it’s the last thing that Logan wants to investigate – and the last thing that readers want to read about, for child abuse (and animal cruelty) show that some people are beasts and should not be dignified by being called human.  Once again (see review below) Mr MacBride takes his readers to the Dark Side of his characters’ behaviour, but always alleviates the horror at the right time with his trademark brand of humour – I would sleep like a smug baby every night if I could come up with all those quick quips and smarty rejoinders that his characters bandy about – but I can’t even remember any!  Life is cruel.
            Demoted-to-Detective-Sergeant Roberta Steel makes another unforgettable appearance;  she is gay and the proud mother with her wife Susan of two daughters, fathered turkey-baster fashion by Logan (the things some people have to do for friends!) and she is not happy at her loss of status, particularly when Logan makes her drive the squad car because he is Senior Officer.  Well, that’s what you get when your policing methods are less than ‘conventional’, not to say downright illegal.
            It’s great to meet up again with all these mighty characters, good and bad – but when is it EVER going to stop raining?!  FIVE STARS
Now We Are Dead, by Stuart MacBride

           Mr MacBride’s archetypical burnt-out but brilliant copper Logan Macrae features only peripherally here;  instead the floor is given to Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steel, proudly gay and relentless enemy of Aberdeen’s bad guys – until her illegal efforts to put rapist Jack Wallace behind bars result in exposure, a court case, and demotion to Detective Sergeant.  And an insatiable desire for revenge against the Motherfunker who dobbed her in – Logan Macrae. 
            To add awful insult to terrible injury, the brutal rapes are still happening, and with each new crime, the ‘raping wee shite’ she put away (now released from prison and trumpeting his innocence all over the media) cannot resist sending a video of himself and ‘friends’ going to the movies, having dinner, clubbing – all at the exact times that the rapes occurred:  Roberta knows Wallace is behind each crime, but proof is impossible to come by and it is not long before she is in trouble with her superiors – again! – for surveilling the Wee Shite’s house, much to his delight;  he has a video of her doing just that and he has made an official complaint of harassment to her boss.  Just what she needs.  To make matters even worse, she is told that if she keeps up with the harassment, she won’t just be losing her job, but her behaviour will be terminating the job of her long-suffering but protective assistant Detective Constable Tufty, in her opinion a ‘useless wee spud’ – but her useless wee spud.  She’s on a final warning.
            There is an element of Keystone Cops to the opening chapters of ‘Now We Are Dead’;  there is lots of comedy, clever repartee, not to mention cheeky young kids training to be tomorrow’s crims, but Mr MacBride brings us all back to cruel, stark reality with Steel and Tufty’s efforts to prosecute a debt collector for ruthlessly beating an old lady and cooking her little dog in her microwave, and the discovery by them of an eight month old baby left in his cot with a tin of dog food while his mother died from an overdose on the filthy mattress in front of him.  In both cases, the neighbours refuse to give evidence:  in the baby’s case the neighbours got out the air freshener when the smells got worse.  Which proves that such is Mr MacBride’s storytelling skill he can take readers anywhere he likes on the emotional spectrum that he chooses, and it is not always a comfortable journey.
            It is clear too, that Steel and Tufty are in line for a very messy showdown with Raping Wee Shite Jack Wallace;  once again it isn’t pretty, but again Mr MacBride demonstrates his effortless mastery of the Crime genre.  My only criticism is that he doesn’t write his stories quickly enough:  there should be one every six months, not a measly one per year!  FIVE STARS.    

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