Written by Lin Anderson — Even latecomers to this series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod will be captivated by the landscape of the Scottish Highlands and the opinionated and lively characters. Follow the Dead opens in a blizzard, on Hogmanay, up in the Cairngorms. This is nature at its fiercest and the author does an excellent job conveying the full horror of the snowfall, ice and howling winds – a sense of imminent danger in the harsh and unforgiving landscape where one false move can cost your life.
Certainly there is plenty of death within the first few pages. A plane that no-one seems to know anything about has crashed in the mountains killing the pilot. Nearby, three young climbers are found dead in their bivouac and a fourth is missing. Rhona is actually in Aviemore with her boyfriend Sean for a romantic weekend away, but gets involved with the mountain rescue team as they are called into action. Meanwhile, Glasgow cop DS Michael McNab, who has a soft spot for Rhona, is investigating a drug-trafficking ring and stumbles across an orgy involving underage girls. The girls are rescued but they are too frightened to talk.
In the mountains, that fourth climber is found and rushed to hospital with hypothermia, but what makes her change her story and claim she merely stumbled and fell? Is she hiding something? Then a Norwegian investigator called Olsen is brought onto the case, much to McNab’s dismay, and uncovers a much larger drugs and human trafficking operation between Stavanger and Aberdeen. Luckily, Rhona and Olsen seem to work much better together than McNab, who prefers to go his separate way.
The back story of each of the main characters is skilfully woven in without interfering too much in the present investigation. If you’re a new reader, you won’t feel like you’ve missed out on events in previous books. The short chapters and alternating points of view (Rhona, McNab, the killer, Olsen) are clearly designed to set a storming pace. However, it sometimes backfires as you become absorbed in one particular storyline and want to know what happens only to be chopped away to another plot strand. Another source of frustration is the obvious question which isn’t addressed until over 200 pages in: Why would someone kill so many people to protect their identity, when it seems unlikely they’d be recognised in a blizzard, at night, anyway? It’s a matter not satisfactorily resolved.
However, if you like police procedurals there is enough solid investigation going on, while fans of adventure thrillers will enjoy tense moments on ships, choppers and oil rigs braving the North Sea storms. The main characters are well-rounded, likeable and fearless, occasionally infuriatingly so. McNab is a maverick, following his own leads without informing his colleagues, especially when it appears that one of his childhood friends seems a little too closely linked to the criminal side of Glasgow. There is an interesting secondary storyline regarding his newfound interest in tattoos and burgeoning relationship with a tattoo artist. Rhona has her own commitment issues, but once she is intrigued by an investigation, she is as stubborn as a dog with a bone.
A chilling foray into the North Sea oil corridor and bleak winter mountainscape, charismatic leads and some ruthless criminal operators – all the conditions are met for a thrilling read.
For more crime fiction set in Scotland, try our Gazetteer for this region.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars