I’m not really a crime aficionado and read only the occasional detective story, but I met Chris Longmuir at the Love A Happy End event in June and I’ve been looking forward to her prize-winning Dead Wood ever since. Apart from anything else I’ve entered the Dundee Prize and was keen to see the kind of book that had come out on top! And the book is set In Dundee too, a city I know only slightly, but anywhere north of the border starts with an advantage in my eyes. Would it go anywhere to challenging Rebus’ Edinburgh in the Scottish crime stakes?
I did have some qualms. Chris mentioned that some people find the book particularly dark, but although there are grisly scenes and disturbing glimpses into the mind of the murderer, there was nothing I felt was gratuitously nasty or prompted the revulsion I have occasionally felt with tartan noir, so no worries on that score.
The story centres on Kara, a young Mum who, after a mix-up involving a drugs deal, comes close to being the victim of a serial killer. During all this she has been forced to leave her kids home alone, and as a result they are taken into care. Her primary motivation throughout the book is to get them back, but she does manage to report the killer’s activities to the local nick where we meet a hard-boiled detective struggling with a disintegrating private life. Sounds familiar? Yes, but this is no Rebus clone, because we also get to know a whole team of liaison officers and social workers dealing with the problems thrown up by Kara’s situation. The author has experience in this field, making for an authentic picture of police work today, involving as it does case conferences as well as incident rooms.
In the same way, Dundee makes a great backdrop to events: unglamorous, gritty and with just a whiff of the sea, not to mention some outlandish characters, like the hooker who keeps snakes – (so bizarre I’m hoping there’s a real-life equivalent somewhere!)
There is a big cast of characters and an intricate plot. Somewhere in the middle I got a bit lost in the past history of Templeton Woods but then everything clicked into place and it became clear that the killer was not just on the loose but (trying not to give too much away!) very close indeed to the investigating team.
The closing chapters keep everything simmering at just the right temperature, and the ending, in terms of Kara’s future, hits just the right note. A great read with all the right ingredients, this will appeal to all crime fans and maybe a few more besides.
Chris writes mainly crime, but if you like historical sagas, her Salt-splashed Cradle (e-book only) centred on a Victorian fishing community is well worth a look too.