Written by Douglas Lindsay — A Plague of Crows is the second of Lindsay’s police procedural novels with Edinburgh cop, DS Thomas Hutton at the helm. Lindsay is best known for his Barney Thomson series. At the outset Hutton, usually hellbent on drinking and screwing himself into an early grave, is on a health kick, living in a tent at the foot of a Scottish mountain after being suspended for fighting with a colleague. He’d been having an affair with the man’s wife. Hutton has been undergoing psychological evaluation and, despite being classified as mentally unfit for service, with the ghosts of his past trying to be heard, is recalled after a particularly brutal murder.
And so begins the hunt for the killer called The Plague Of Crows. The person employs a particularly nasty method of taking lives – kidnapping apparently unrelated victims – a reporter, a copper and a social worker – and after a gruesome process attracting crows to finish them off. The police are baffled and have no idea where and when the next victim might appear – the murderer is meticulous in their planning and execution. The Plague Of Crows then strikes for a second time, placing three more bodies in an isolated wood, but on this occasion recording everything for posterity and releasing it on social media, sending the press and public into a frenzy.
I thoroughly enjoyed Plague Of Crows. It’s another superb example of Scottish crime noir. There are a number of elements to highlight. The writing is excellent. Sharp, fast paced, gripping. The author manages to be economical with his words, yet delivers a very strong story.
There’s the characterisation. Hutton himself is excellent. He’s naked (often literally) in his pursuit of the opposite sex. He enjoys a drink and has quite a few demons from his past that he refuses to face. He admits to not being the most professional of coppers. Paperwork? He couldn’t even spell the word. And by the time the investigation is just halfway through he’s back to caffeine, drinking and womanising. Yet, despite all that, he’s dilligent in his pursuit of the bad guys. He could easily give up, but won’t. I also like the fact he’s a sergeant. Often we work with the senior officers in stories such as these – ambition drives all.
Talking of officers, next is Hutton’s boss, DCI Taylor. Quite the opposite to his DS he’s a thinker married to the job. And there’s the recently appointed Superintendent Connor. He’s a complete arse, the worst kind of boss and one that most of us have experienced. I developed a real dislike for the guy. In general the characters are likeable and easy to associate with and, except the killer, I was happy to spend time with them.
As most of the novel is written from a first person perspective through the DS’s eyes he is able to throw out acerbic one-liners about people and activities. They’re wry and often funny. And there’s a good sense of humour running through the novel too, despite its generally grim contents.
It takes the police a long time to finally track down the perpetrator, they’re frustrated and know they’re virtually powerless to act. And this comes across too in the story (and not in a Harry Potter, search for the horcrux fashion either).
Ultimately there’s little to criticise here. Lindsay is an accomplished author as Plague Of Crows illustrates.
CFL Rating 5 Stars