My Goodreads participation has paid off, big time. I was trolling about for e-books to download in preparation for my cruise with my fabulous with spouse, and Goodreads suggested that I’d like Stuart MacBride. And I do.
MacBride writes a series featuring Aberdeen detective Logan MacRae, who is smart but not perfect, has a penchant for falling in love (or at least, rolling into the sack ) with women he works with. He struggles mightily to triumph over the criminals, but often loses.
It’s pretty common in fiction for minor characters to be killed off – either to show how bad the bad guy is, or to allow the main character to have sufficient motivation to work hard, or to give the main character depth. It’s like the third guy when Scottie beams that guy, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock down to a hostile planet. He’s doomed.
MacBride doesn’t play that game. Terrible stuff happens to ongoing characters and they… just keep going. Even MacRae. In Cold Granite, the first book in the series, DS MacRae is dealing with the aftermath of a frenzied knife attack by a crazed suspect, who stabbed him dozens of time. In fact, MacRae died for a time, resulting in his nickname: Lazarus.
Another example? A friend of MacRae’s is tortured. Bits of him are simply hacked off. He blames MacRae but ultimately the heat of anger simmers down to philosophical acceptance, seasoned with infrequent hard-edged joshing. And in Dark Blood, the bad guy/victim is a man who served his time for rape. Not women. Not children. Not little boys. Grandpas. Extra big ick factor. You won’t love the guy, but you don’t want to see him treated the way he’s treated in this book.
Still, this isn’t noir. The books are gritty, but they are also hilarious. Ridiculous jokes. Farting about (literally). Great characters, like DI Roberta Steel. In Dying Light, Laz is demoted into her “Screw-up Squad.” His detecting skills shine particularly brightly among these least of the dim bulbs. Steel may make her squad recite “We are not at home to Mr. Fuck Up” as a daily motivational mantra, but the squad is frequently at home to Mr. Fuck Up. Steel has a strong desire to demonstrate her competence, but she’s also a foul-mouthed, 40-ish lesbian who looks 60+, smokes like a chimney, speculates outrageously about everyone and anyone’s sexual proclivities and prowess, and rules her own squad with an iron hand while flouting her superiors.
There are seven books in the series. In order, they are:
- Cold Granite
- Dying Light
- Broken Skin
- Flesh House
- Blind Eye
- Dark Blood
- Shatter the Bones
So far, I’ve read the first five in order, and I really recommend that you do so, also. Although each book is complete unto itself, you’ll get the most out of the experience if you start with Cold Granite and work your way forward.
Who shouldn’t read Stuart MacBride? If you can’t stand violence, or want your cops to be super-human or super-serious, you won’t appreciate his books. If you want a fresh series that’s gritty but cheeky, you’ll love him.