Ghost in the Machine

2 Mins read

Written by Ed James — In a budget Edinburgh hotel young divorcee Caroline Adamson nervously awaits Martin Webb, whom she has met on the social networking site Schoolbook. A couple of days later, when she has not returned to collect her young son, she is reported missing. DC Scott Cullen of Lothian and Borders police is given the task of investigating. His cynical boss DI Bain is disinclined to take the case seriously but as Cullen struggles to persuade the Schoolbook owners to reveal information about the man Caroline was meeting, her body is found in a locked hotel bedroom.

As the murder enquiry gathers pace, Cullen finds that Martin Webb’s profile is an elaborate fiction. He discovers that one of Caroline’s friends has also arranged to meet Webb, but he and his colleagues arrive at her flat too late to prevent a fatal attack, during which her assailant escapes. Meanwhile, Bain becomes fixated with one suspect at the expense of searching for the truth, and Cullen and his colleague Sergeant Sharon O’Neill have to combat their superior’s abrasiveness and sloppy thinking.

The killer appears to selecting, grooming and arranging to meet his victims via Schoolbook, and Cullen and McNeill negotiate the slippery and confusing world of social networking, data protection and identity fraud in order to make sense of the killings. The technology behind the cyber-friendship industry is explained fluently and convincingly without overwhelming the reader with geek-speak. Tragically, there have been real life cases where impressionable youngsters have been groomed on such sites with tragic consequences, but the victims in this story are all professional, older women, and I am not totally convinced they would have fallen into the hands of their Schoolbook killer quite as easily as they do here.

The story is largely dialogue driven. Ed James is a native of the area, and we just have to trust him that the quirky manner in which some of the characters speak is authentic. The strongest scenes in the book are the various frictions and conflicts between the police officers assigned to the case. They display an all-too-convincing cocktail of laziness, bloody-mindedness, doggedness and bravery. James plans more books in the series, and this squad has an incident room where it is enthralling to be a fly on the wall.

The author adopts the an A to Z street guide approach to describing Edinburgh. This can be irritating after a while, as knowing the name of every street, junction and alleyway does not necessarily add pace or believability to the narrative, however to be fair, he does say that some of the locations are fictitious. As with many independently published works, this book could do with some judicious editing, but the occasional typos do not interfere with the enjoyment of the story. As a central character, Cullen is described with warts-and-all candour; he is not the most instantly admirable crime novel hero, but is all the more convincing for his strengths and weaknesses being revealed.


CFL rating: 3 Stars

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