Today I am sharing my thoughts on All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride, the latest book in the fabulous Logan McRae series which hits the shelves tomorrow. Before I tell you what I think, here is what the book is all about:
About the Book
There’s a darkness in the heart of Scotland…Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Google Play | Apple Books
The stunning new Logan McRae thriller from No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller Stuart MacBride.
Scream all you want, no one can hear…
Inspector Logan McRae is looking forward to a nice simple case – something to ease him back into work after a year off on the sick. But the powers-that-be have other ideas…
The high-profile anti-independence campaigner, Professor Wilson, has gone missing, leaving nothing but bloodstains behind. There’s a war brewing between the factions for and against Scottish Nationalism. Infighting in the police ranks. And it’s all playing out in the merciless glare of the media. Logan’s superiors want results, and they want them now.
Someone out there is trying to make a point, and they’re making it in blood. If Logan can’t stop them, it won’t just be his career that dies.
Long term followers of my blog, or folks you have just seen me witter on upon Twitter (or should that be twitter on …) , will know that I am somewhat of a fan of Stuart MacBride’s work. He’s the kind of author I stalk Amazon for, keeping an eye on when the next book is out for pre-order, making sure I’m at the front of the queue when it comes to order pickings and the like. I have all the books in first edition – yes, I’m one of those people. So when I saw All That’s Dead was up on Amazon, I pressed buy and didn’t look back. Getting an early copy via Netgalley was just the icing on the cake.
If you have read any books at all in this series, in particular the last two or three books starting with the Roberta Steel led title, Now We Are Dead, then you will know the kind of story you are going to be getting when you pick up this book. A blend of dark crime and undeniably classic MacBride humour. All of this is present in All That’s Dead, a story in which Logan finds himself caught up in the investigation into the somewhat bloody disappearance of a pro-union University Professor whose hobby was to inflame arguments with Scottish Nationalists via Twitter. There is still a chance the disappearance could be entirely innocent, albeit a very slim one, one that is completely written off when an unexpected and unsavoury package arrives at the BBC …
From here, the threat, the sense of tension and jeopardy, increases when another well known figure who spoke in favour of the Union disappears in similarly macabre circumstances. It makes for a perplexing case and even though Logan and co have a firm suspect, he remains frustratingly elusive, adding to the drama for both the police and the reader. It’s all classic Logan McRae territory – the chase, the near misses, the very real risk of injury or worse to one or more members of the team … It works well and, as the investigation ramps up, it really does keep you glued to the book.
But … and I really do hate to say this, for me, this was only really from the halfway point onward. This was a much slower story to develop, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really that empathetic towards the first victim which made it harder to really become invested in his fate. And despite the humour being one of the elements I have really enjoyed in the past few books, this time it felt, I don’t know… Perhaps a little too much. Almost as though the book was becoming a parody not a thriller. Whereas in prior books the sarcasm and colourful language originated predominantly from Steel, in this book she took a bit of a back seat and it was left to everyone else to pick up the comedy mantle. And they did. Al of them. It felt as though each character was acting just a touch too unprofessionally, even Logan’s superiors, who out Steel’d Steel at times for inventive use of language.
I know theirs’ is the kind of job in which banter is essential, and gallows humour is a natural form of self defence for police officers – that part is all too authentic and believable – but this felt like fudgemonkery on steroids, and started to become a little repetitive after a while.
Whereas normally the humour comes as welcome relief from the dark subject matters MacBride excels in writing, certainly for the first hundred pages or so I found myself hoping that someone’s head would show up in a box all Seven-stylee, just to add some of the intensity and darkness that I missed so much. I’m not a monster (not entirely at least), but that perfect blend of wit light and shade, the wit and grit of the writing, was what won me over to the series in the first place. Cold, dark, grey, granite tough, Aberdonian murder and madness. You know – the stuff that makes you (me) smile? Too much analysis of Logan’s fish finger sandwich and not enough on the actual victims of the crime perhaps, objectionable as they were. Or perhaps, current tenure in Professional Standards and recent recovery from a serious stab wound aside, Logan is just too damned happy these days, at least for me. I do kind of miss the melancholy and tortured old sod of yesteryear.
Now what you do still get in abundance is Mr MacBride’s brilliant ability to bring the setting, and the characters, to life. There are many old and familiar faces to welcome back, as well as few new ones to get to know and potentially loathe. Notably in this book it is DI King who becomes the focus of everyone’s attention, for all the wrong reasons, and not just because he’s struggling to solve the case. He’s under pressure from all sides and although I didn’t especially like him as a person, as a defective detective I really did. Regarding setting, I think anyone who is from the area, or who has ever had the dubious delight of trying to traverse the city or fight their way up past Bridge of Don to escape North, will recognise the sense of futility and subsequent resignation which accompanies the frequent car journeys that poor Logan and co have to make. It’s that sense of place, that feeling of “I know exactly where you mean’, that really brings the story to life. Even if you don’t know Aberdeen, you can still picture it quite clearly. That ability to capture the location on the page is the author’s forte, and something I don’t believe will ever change or fade.
There is a strong socio-political theme throughout this book – pro v anti independence for Scotland, even pro v anti Brexit – and although the author stops short of ever showing the reader Logan’s feelings on the subject, many other characters, King included, nail their colours to the mast. (No pun intended there to those in the know btw … 😉 ) It is highly topical, particularly because of the Brexit fiasco which is still ongoing and the rise in intolerance which has come in its wake. The story certainly strikes a chord, although hopefully nobody, no matter their political bias, would go to the extremes of the villain or villains in this particular piece. Mr MacBride has skilfully captured the frustration of an entire nation (north and south of the border) and framed it in an engrossing, entertaining, and sometimes gruesome read.
I really wanted to be able to rave about this book, and was as excited about reading it as I have been all the others. And I didn’t not like it, I just didn’t love it as much as I’d wanted to either. It’s a great story, and I found the second half of the book really drew in me – the time spent reading it just flew by. It did make me laugh, as well as frustrate me at times, so maybe the problem is really more with me than with the book. Who knows? What drove me crazy, others will adore and other reviews I have seen suggest that is absolutely the case. Reading is all subjective anyway, right? And I still love the series, enjoyed this book overall, and am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Because, and this is the important bit really, there were those typically MacBride moments of ‘ewww, gross … teehee’, the ones that you always find in his books that keep the macabre murder lover (fictional, obviously) in me quite contented. And there is absolutely no doubt that Stuart MacBride is a master story teller, and king of the quip. But a part of me is hoping that in the next book as least one of the police team takes the investigation just a touch more seriously, and that we have a few more moments of rationality to contrast against the inevitable and, quite frankly, well needed madness. I’ll admit though, that when it comes to writing about British politics right now, finding and portraying any semblance of sanity would be a tall order for any author, even one as talented as Stuart MacBride.