Written by Stuart MacBride — Stuart MacBride’s Aberdeen detective Logan McRae isn’t a stranger here on the pages of Crime Fiction Lover. We’ve previously reviewed Shatter the Bones and Close to the Bone. Normally, however, he appears in books that are 400, 500 or 600 pages in length. In January, MacBride released a novella featuring McRae – The 45% Hangover – and now we meet him once again in a short novel. 22 Dead Little Bodies is only 172 pages in length and it’s presented a bit like a week in the life of the detective. Perhaps the author is aiming for an audience wanting a gritty, gory cop story but who can’t quite commit to the longer read. Is it a good move?
Here, Logan McRae is Acting DI and he’s having a difficult week. The action takes place in between novels eight and nine in the series – Close to the Bone and The Missing and The Dead – and things get going when McRae has to go for lunch with his superior and nemesis, DCI Roberta Steel of the Major Investigations Team. She is able to take any case away from Aberdeen CID at the moment, which makes things slightly interesting. On his way back to the station he finds himself attempting to stop prospective suicide John Skinner from throwing himself off a building. But Skinner, despite McRae’s efforts, is determined to die, making a cryptic comment before his plummet. It is down to McRae’s team to deliver the grisly and unwelcome death message to his wife. Then the team find that she’s missing, along with the couple’s two young children.
At the same time McRae is dealing with some other humdrum cases. There’s the irritating Mrs Black who’s reaching the apex of a dispute with her next door neighbour, Justin Robson, and has complained about every officer she’s dealt with. The woman is toxic. Apparently Robson is hanging bags of poo (her words) from her prized tree, but worse she is accusing him of being a drug dealer. In turn, Robson is fed up with the noise and smell resulting from 20 squawking birds in Black’s back garden. There is also the equally banal challenge of dealing with the tramp who has been causing difficulty in a middle class area… until the man drinks himself to death, that is. In his limited personal time McRae is attempting to sell his flat to pay for the care of his girlfriend, Samantha, currently in a coma with no sign of resurfacing. A local gangster is offering to cover the costs, in return for certain favours, of course.
When the body of Mrs Skinner turns up and the children don’t, McRae knows he’s in a race against time to find them, while also coping with the increasingly strange Mrs Black and aggressive Justin Robson. Even the death of the tramp is not all it seems; McRae suspects foul play. All the while DCI Steel sits back and watches.
There are clearly events in 22 Dead Little Bodies that have their backgrounds elsewhere, such as Samantha’s bed ridden condition. The story works largely as a standalone though, and may even hook you into reading more of the series. The narrative style is brief and punchy, the dialogue is sharp and witty. It is worth noting that there is barely a single swear word within – quite unusual for crime novels these days. Despite the subject matter there is a vein of humour, usually black in colour, but present nevertheless. One minor negative is Steel herself. She’s irritating and somewhat over the top, although perhaps the author is having a little fun with the character. And the body count is actually higher than the title suggests – 25 in total. But who cares? Overall this is a tantalising taste of McRae and Steel that leaves the desire for more…
Read our interview with Stuart MacBride here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars