Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the brand new standalone Oldcastle novel from Stuart MacBride, No Less the Devil. My thanks to publisher Bantam Press for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
‘We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.’
It’s been seventeen months since the Bloodsmith butchered his first victim and Operation Maypole is still no nearer to catching him. The media is whipping up a storm, the top brass are demanding results, but the investigation is sinking fast.
Now isn’t the time to get distracted with other cases, but Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh doesn’t have much choice. When Benedict Strachan was just eleven, he hunted down and killed a homeless man. No one’s ever figured out why Benedict did it, but now, after sixteen years, he’s back on the streets again – battered, frightened, convinced a shadowy ‘They’ are out to get him, and begging Lucy for help.
It sounds like paranoia, but what if he’s right? What if he really is caught up in something bigger and darker than Lucy’s ever dealt with before? What if the Bloodsmith isn’t the only monster out there? And what’s going to happen when Lucy goes after them?
We make a welcome return to Oldcastle with No Less The Devil, the latest deliciously dark offering from Stuart MacBride, but whilst the territory may be familiar, this is a whole new cast of characters with Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh front and centre. She is the most intriguing of characters, for reasons that will become apparent during the reading, someone who manages to both fit the archetypal Detective you would expect from this kind of noirish novel and yet absolutely not. She is a troubled soul, a woman with a history that takes some time to be spelled out to readers, but which has more than a slight bearing on what comes to pass in her hunt for the serial killer known as ‘Bloodsmith’.
For me this story sits somewhere between the darkness which typified the early Logan McRae novels, and certainly our first outing with Ash Henderson on the streets of Oldcastle, and the more madcap-esque novels of late, the likes of A Dark So Deadly, with Mother and the misfit mob, or those where Roberta Steel’s inimitable brand of humour comes to the fore. There is that vein of humour, largely coming in the interactions of the police team especially Lucy and her partner, The Dunk, but there are also some very sombre and skin crawling moments, those bouts of tension and threat that you might expect from a Stuart MacBride novel.
There is nothing overly graphic in terms of our being present during the dark deeds of murder, but there is no doubt left in our minds about what fate the victims suffered. With the exception of the first dispatch in the book, we come to them many months after the fact so are able to stay one step removed from the depravity. There is one scene, recounted by Lucy looking back, which is quite visceral and emotionally charged and which goes a long way to explaining why she reacts as she does, but whilst it is hard to read, it is not overly graphic, or simply there as a shocking plot device. But it’s definitely impactful.
I really enjoyed getting to know Lucy over the course of the book, even if her approach to policing is a little … unconventional at times. There is a lot of conflict in her life, and she finds herself the subject of some unwanted attention, of the threatening, the professional and, dare we suggest it, the romantic kind. The relationship between her and The Dunk is fun, if not quite fresh, a kind of tamer version of McRae and Steel with the gender roles reversed. Then there is the constant presence of Professional Standards officer, Charlie, there only for her own protection of course, but who acts as her morale and professional conscience, even if she ignore him more than Pinocchio did Jiminy Cricket. There’s a real determination to her, but also an inherent sadness which takes a time to get to the root of, but she was fascinating and I’d be interested to see how her character would be explored should there be more books set in her corner of Oldcastle’s police station.
The Bloodsmith is an almost mythical character and there are scenes throughout the book which serve to muddy our understanding of just who they might be. Certainly there are endless contradictions which means the real Bloodsmith is kept hidden until just the right moment in the book. It makes for a very surprising reveal and while I’d guessed part of the reveal, I’d by no means guessed it all. The pacing in the book is just right for what is a considerable read – over 450 pages – but when I look back, there was nothing that I felt didn’t fit or didn’t belong.
Maybe I’d have liked just a slightly more serious edge to the story itself, I really enjoyed some of those earlier, darker reads, but there was enough focus on the investigation and the various invisible threads that linked the victims to keep my focus right to the end. And ending, I should add, that does leave a smile on the face and a very interesting set of possibilities for the future.
About the Author
Stuart MacBride is the Sunday Times No.1 bestselling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He’s also published standalones, novellas, and short stories, as well as a slightly twisted children’s picture book for slightly twisted children.
Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Gherkin, Onion and Beetroot, some hens, some horses, and an impressive collection of assorted weeds.