Monday, January 25, 2016

In the Cold Dark Ground - Stuart MacBride

I love MacBride.  He's always on the top of my holiday reading list.  Ironically, when I'm putting my feet up, avoiding the head of the midday Kiwi summer sun in a shady spot, MacBride's main character, Sergeant Logan (Lazarus) McRae is out in the worst of North Scotland's rain, sleet and snow.  'In the Cold Dark Ground' is the third book in an on-going series centred around McRae, his sometimes boss, the extremely obnoxious DCI Roberta Steel and a host of increasingly familiar side characters of constables, sergeants and DC's that crash in and out of plots that intertwine like a complicated helix of frayed DNA spaghetti strands.  As each book develops, we get to meet these people as individuals and procrastinators but even more fascinating are the host of evil villains that MacBride chooses to rain upon McRae.  No rest for the wicked would be the best way to describe the continuing downward spiral each book is constructed around. 

This time, McRae's back in his local patch, plodding the uniformed beat when he stumbles across a missing person's case that rapidly becomes a hunt for a murder.  The MP is found dead, body bleached, naked and with a bin liner tied over their head - the trademark of one particularly nastier Southern Scottish Drug lord.  Inevitably, DCI Steel and her specialist crew swoop down McRae's station, 'stinking up the place', causing chaos and using up all the available cups and never doing the washing up!  Within five minutes, McRae's been recruited in and expected to solve the case so Steel and her superiors can nab the glory.  As the slightly disgusting, irritable but loveable rogue Steel is back on form yelling and shouting obscenities at everyone, threatening to put her size nines where the sun wont shine and generally causing more havoc than should be normal.  Layer onto that McRae's unenviable looming task to shut off his girlfriend Samantha's life support system, after five years in a coma; add in some unwelcome duties to be Will Executor of the newly departed gangster Wee Hamish Mowart - which is hotly contested by Mowart's successor and McRae's nemesis, Rueben.  Then add to that the circling vultures from Professional Standards, who intend to bring down Steel for inappropriate conduct.  And finally, if that wasn't enough, throw in the discovery that the B-I-T-C-H from HQ who's running the MP/murder op is none other than McRae's very long lost sister and she's well 'p-d off' that McRae didn't attend their dad's recent funeral (owing to the small fact that McRae was under the impression the man had died many year's previously and was well unaware of his second family). It all builds up to a perfect Hibernian,  Shakespearean mess. 

As with the last two books, MacBride's ability to keep layering up complex dilemmas but still keep all Logan's balls in the air is a perfect skill.  I once met MacBride, a wonderfully, mischievous crime geek, who i can well imagine secretly grinning his way through every page he writes.  And fair call to.  This is wonderful, dark, tragi-comedy at it's best.  It's what I love about these books, they all read like wee mini series and would be perfect for TV, but the chance to totally immerse one's self in the host of characters and scenarios is really best achieved on the page, more than the screen. 

MacBride has a small lexicon of his own language and terms, like 'sook': the act of sucking chip fat or biscuit chocolate off one's fingers.  His irreverent passion for detailing insignificant details like how pie and pastie pastry spreads uncontrolled down one's frontage, particularly over Steels ample bosom is almost obsessive.  It's a wonderful contrast to the gory details of murder victims and crime scene scenarios.  These, he'll give us once before allowing each character to replay them in their own twisted words and descriptions through out the novel. 

All of this, in the end amounts to yet another highly satisfying 518 pages.  MacBride has a whole army of fans, who like Harry Potter and Tolkien fans have a slightly geeky fanaticism.  Once you read this, you too will probably become one two. Unlike Taggart, or Morse or Midsummer Murders, this is not a simple, one dimensional British crime series - it's way better than that. 

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