Written by Douglas Lindsay — DS Thomas Hutton returns in his third outing as the down at heel detective. He’s no longer trusted to undertake anything but menial duties such as finding out who graffiti-ed the public toilets. He’s out in the cold – until there’s a suicide. An old woman is found hanging from a bridge in a Glasgow park, with what appears to be wings at her shoulders. Before Hutton can blink another body appears, a young student cuts his wrists. After a little digging it seems the teenager had a relationship with the woman, who was… ahem… a purveyor of granny sex. All is not as it seems, and the pathology reports determine that the suicides were actually murders.
Both victims have an association with the church. With several churches forced to merge in a winner takes all contest, political and religious fervour are rife. Hutton is convinced they’re connected somehow. And he’s being visited by a little girl in a yellow dress, a girl that no-one else can see. Throw a whiff of romance into the mix and you have to ask yourself, has Hutton really lost it this time?
There are three legs to this particular novel. The first, and perhaps strongest leg is the characterisation, particularly that of the protagonist DS Hutton. He is indeed a contender for the crown of the unhappiest detective in crime fiction today. He makes Rebus look a jolly clown at a kids’ birthday party. Lindsay – best known for his Barney Thomson series, currently being made into a film by Robert Carlyle – put Hutton through the wringer in his previous novel, The Plague of Crows. However those experiences were a cake walk compared to what he goes through this time around.
Hutton is a womaniser, an alcoholic but has the lowest possible level of self-esteem. He’s a walking disaster, everything he touches turns to junk, sometimes people literally die around him. Damaged by past events, Hutton hates himself. But he happens to be a pretty good detective. He’s tenacious and smart, he takes risks and leaps of intuition where others wouldn’t or simply couldn’t. Hutton isn’t a high flier, he’s only a sergeant (even Rebus got promoted to a DI after one book) and that’s probably where he’ll stay, too – an interesting, satisfying and perhaps realistic quirk.
The second leg is the supernatural element. Where Plague of Crows was gory in its (literal) execution, The Blood That Stains Your Hands is more cerebral. Hutton has nightmares enough, but the young girl that haunts him in this case wants answers and only Hutton can seem to connect with her. This aspect has popped up in several books of late – for example Matt Hilton’s Preturnatural and Doug Jackson’s War Games. As with the aforementioned books Lindsay handles this element well – it would be all too easy for this story arc to dominate and undermine the overall plot. But Lindsay is too good an author to allow that to happen and when the little girl’s story is resolved it’s both heart warming and sad.
The religious thread is the final leg on which the plot balances. There’s a degree of cynicism engrained within this particular element – four churches have been pitted against each other for survival. Each has their own beliefs. Unfortunately they cannot co-exist and, perhaps in a reflection of today’s society, grapple with each other with deadly consequences. Lindsay uses this to build the story around. Do good unto each other is not a phrase the congregations follow. Lindsay proves himself again to be a writer with a cut of panache. He is a superb storyteller with a knack for the bizarre. I take my hat off to him.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars