This could have worked quite well if the author had taken the time to think through what he wanted the novel to be. It has other serious flaws but in the main one is confused as to whether this is a comic novel, a pastiche or a complex murder mystery.
As a comic novel it fails since the comedy is sporadic and reliant for effect on Carry On style ‘double entendre’ and cheap puns. It is draining to read since – for one thing – the style of the comedy is far too modern and sits uneasily in a late Victorian setting. Sometimes it hits the nail but most of the time it is just not funny or severely laboured. There is a section where Lestrade meets Oscar Wilde which is particularly painful to read, brief though it is, as it seems it was only included for its comic value.
The basic premise is that Inspector Lestrade (of the Sherlock Holmes tales) is in fact a real Inspector and exists in the real world alongside Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson are reduced to one-dimensional buffoonish stereotypes, while the rest of the cast struggle to get beyond two dimensions.
Lestrade is tasked with investigating a series of peculiar murders which are based around Hoffman’s cautionary verses of Struwellpeter, or Shock Headed Peter.
Lestrade – for no good reason – comes into contact with various famous Victorians, such as Tennyson, Swinburne, The Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor (whose presumed homosexuality, like that of Oscar Wilde, is presented to us for no other reason than the author knows all about it and presumes he is telling us things we never knew… Oh, and it gives him the excuse to use the derogatory term for gay men ‘cottage loaf’ several times) and various others.
The murders themselves are quite preposterous and would be impossible to put into practice in real terms. Had the author taken some time to construct more credible scenarios it might have saved this novel from ruin.
It’s not that difficult to work out who the murderer is either, but I’ll leave that for you to determine.
Racing like sperm for the welcoming bus doors,
old random act of desperate access,
we are somehow united in one aim.
Lost in this unnatural press of strangers
throwing instincts into a gene panic.
Though still we sit in pairs like chromosomes.
The oyster island stare is then deployed,
eyes glazing past the ears of those on board
these barrels of dodgy DNA.
They’re not accepted. Faces draw a blank
against those lists we’ve captured in our heads;
the tallied loved and hated, lost, betrayed.
These passengers could be first class but they
are just untested genes, at least today.
This is a highly enjoyable romp around Aberdeen, a city painted as being beset with relentless rain and snow. DS Logan McRae is part of a team investigating a child killer. Logan is nicknamed Lazarus as he has only just returned to active duty having been stabbed almost fatally by a murderer he recently apprehended.
When another dead child is found the police are under pressure to find the killer, beset by a reporter who has a mole within the investigation as well as the rank and file of angry Aberdonians.
It’s a non-stop adventure which maintains pace throughout and is peppered with colourful characters.
Despite the depressing central theme it’s an uplifting read with some sprinklings of humour here and there, and a nice balance between action and character development.
Logan is, if I have to poke a critical finger at anything, perhaps a little too nice. It might have been interesting to know more of the history between him and Isobel the Ice Queen pathologist. They were once an item, but it ended badly. This certainly adds an extra element to their working relationship but it might have expanded Logan’s character a little to know what went wrong. Detectives generally need some kind of flaw, and his pining for Isobel doesn’t really cut deeply enough.
The deciding question on this is ‘Will I read the next one?’
Absolutely. It’s always a good sign when a book makes me miss my stop. It doesn’t happen a great deal.
MacBride is kind enough to point out in a afterword that Aberdeen really isn’t that bad, and I am presuming he is referring to both the weather and the residents.
I’m hoping that’s true.
Leigh Koslow returns in the second of Claire’s delightful series. To earn some extra cash Leigh has taken a part time job at the zoo with an old crush, zoo vet Mike Tanner. Having worked late to help Tanner perform an operation, Leigh is drawn to a light in the tiger keeper’s hut and finds the place awash with blood and foolishly picks up a bloodstained knife. Venturing out she notices something in the tiger enclosure; some severed limbs, one of which is an arm sporting several familiar rings. They belong to Leigh’s childhood nemesis Carmen Koslow.
Leigh becomes the chief suspect in the murder and needs to call on her friends to help her investigate and clear her name.
It’s a very enjoyable and somewhat cosy murder mystery, boasting an array of great characters, some of whom will be familiar from volume one, ‘Never Buried’.
Pleasingly it also features a refreshingly surprising ending. I’m very much looking forward to reading more.
Times change so fast. I had not realised while reading that this book was published in 1999. My main thought at several points was ‘Does no one have a mobile phone?’
The policeman in charge of the case has one but everyone else seems reliant on landlines, answering machines and payphones.
I think I preferred it when life was like that, but without the murders.
An angelwing was sprayed on to the blue;
a contrail streamered by a raking wind.
Some may, no doubt, see signs of the divine
in these flatulent remains, the sky’s dregs.
And yet, there’s something great there all the same.
I wondered as I watched if only I
had witnessed this. No one looks up these days
not unless a voice calls from above.
There was no voice, by the way, just in case
you think I’m heading in that direction,
just this great wing with its wind carved feathers
arcing to the left of the setting sun.
It was random, senseless, magnificent.
Then it was gone; didn’t leave a message.
Everyone waiting here was once in love
They’ve been through this experience, survived,
and all have come to have the time preserved
like rich binary jam in this, the love machine.
It will rip their love to digital bits
then convert it to a small dot love file.
Users can log in to experience
the passion and the pain, the sublime bliss,
the agony of loss, red betrayal
staining the curtains, the rapture of sex
and the ubiquitous raging madness.
All can be rescued for posterity.
The queue is long, but they wait patiently.
Their love will now be truly eternal.