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Close to the Bone

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CTTBWritten by Stuart Macbride — Aberdeen, and the granite walls of the city frown down upon a wave of violent and macabre crimes. A body is found on waste ground, hideously disfigured by having a burning tyre hung round its neck. A succession of Asian men have their knees smashed with hammers. Two teenage lovers have gone missing, and Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae of Grampian Police has to provide answers. Neither his peace of mind nor his facial features are improved by small bunches of bones being left outside his home, and then by him being smashed in the face by the minder of a notorious crime boss.

In this, the eighth outing for Macbride’s flawed hero, the investigation is hampered confusing forensic evidence taken from the necklaced murder victim. Only with the aid of expensive facial reconstruction of the skull is the body identified, and then the murder makes even less sense. Turning his attention to the missing teenagers, McRae discovers that the girl, Agnes Garfield, is an avid fan of of a best-selling fantasy novel about witchcraft. Former porn producer Zander Clark is currently filming that very novel locally, featuring local-girl-made-good Nichole Fyfe. When McRae visits the set he finds that Agnes was an intern with the production unit, fired when her behaviour became too obsessive.

The various strands of the case spin around McRae’s head in ever more confusing circles. Why are the Asian men, clearly involved in the drug trade, all insisting that their injuries are accidental? Whose is the disfigured and bloated corpse found inside a witch’s pentangle drawn on the floor of an empty house? And as the case goes nowhere, how will the arrival of Strathclyde’s Police Review Team help matters? Particularly when one of the three investigators is DS Jackie Watson, with whom McRae has romantic history.

McRae’s relationship with his scabrous and foul-mouthed boss, DCI Roberta Steel, is a delight. Although their verbal exchanges are wildly theatrical, they provide a welcome vein of low humour through what is, at heart, quite a grim tale. Steel’s command of obscene invective is matchless, but although it is mostly directed at the hapless McRae, it actually conceals a rather different relationship. Readers of earlier Logan McRae stories will know of this, but for newcomers it is very cleverly and poignantly revealed some two thirds of the way through the story. Alongside the comedy and caricature, there is genuine compassion, and beneath the apparently heavy brush strokes of Macbride’s style is real subtlety and attention to detail.

Amidst all the corpses, torture, beatings and bloodshed, my lasting emotion evoked by this book is one of sadness. It would be doing a disservice to readers to give too much away, but in just a couple of pages, Macbride quite took the wind out of my sails. Logan McRae is not the most likely of super-cops, but he is compassionate and dogged, and his vulnerability only serves to make him more endearing. He fights his battles helped and hindered by a mixed bag of police colleagues, many of whom are barely competent, or just lazy. His adversaries are both the luridly draw professional criminals of Aberdeen, and ordinary people whose lives get caught up in the mayhem. As much by luck as by judgment, McRae stumbles through the physical and emotional carnage to arrive at the truth, but not without damage to himself and those around him. This is a book which will excite, amuse and entertain, but maybe leave you more than a little thoughtful.

HarperCollins
Print/Kindle
£6.97

CFL Rating: 5 stars

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