Today I am sharing my thoughts on Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster, book one in the Max Craigie series. With book three due out next month, I thought it was about time I caught up and have this and book two in my reading list this month. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
This grave can never be opened.
The head of Scotland’s most powerful crime family is brutally murdered, his body dumped inside an ancient grave in a remote cemetery.
This murder can never be forgotten.
Detectives Max Craigie and Janie Calder arrive at the scene, a small town where everyone has secrets to hide. They soon realise this murder is part of a blood feud between two Scottish families that stretches back to the 1800s. One thing’s for certain: it might be the latest killing, but it won’t be the last…
This killer can never be caught.
As the body count rises, the investigation uncovers large-scale corruption at the heart of the Scottish Police Service. Now Max and Janie must turn against their closest colleagues – to solve a case that could cost them far more than just their lives…
Dead Man’s Grave is my first taste of Neil Lancaster’s writing and I must say, I’m quite a fan. Introducing DS Max Craigie, this is a police thriller with a dark heart, but one that held my attention to the very end. I part read, part listened to the book and can quite happily recommend the audio book to anyone who likes a compelling listen.
The book opens in a very atmospheric and intriguing location, with renowned crime boss, Tam Hardie Snr, visiting a burial ground which is purported to hold a very intriguing secret from his family’s past. Intriguing is most definitely the operative word, with the creepy setting adding a kind of tension to the chapter, a foreboding or sense of apprehension that only grows the more we read, one which we soon learn is highly justified. What happens in these few short pages is a precursor to something much darker and much more deadly, a tale of revenge and retribution that poses a threat to anyone who finds themselves caught up in it all. There is a secondary thread to this story, one which actually turns out to be a lot more intrinsic to the story and the overall case than it may at first appear. The story speaks to the corruption and double crossing that lies exists at the heart of the law, the exposure of which becomes of paramount importance to Max Craigie.
I really liked getting to know Max Craigie in this novel. He is a man of very strong principals and also a very haunted individual. He carries with him a lot of guilt over something that happened back when he was in the Black Watch and his former role in the Flying Squad and, as a result, between those memories and the demands of the job, his marriage is on somewhat rocky ground. He chose to transfer to Police Scotland and the Serious and Organised Crime Unit from the Met, and his wife, less keen on the move, chose not to join him. It leaves his focus almost exclusively on the investigation which, in this case is probably for the best.
Max isn’t alone in trying to get to the truth of this very deadly case, joined by a young DC, Janie Calder, a woman dismissed as somewhat of a misfit by colleagues, but someone who proves to be one of Max’s greatest ally, and someone more than equipped to save his hide. She’s funny, but very intelligent and fiercely loyal to Max, whilst still happy to call him out as needed. I liked the camaraderie and banter between the two, that quick kinship that develops, and am interested to see where this partnership leads. Then there is their boss, Ross Fraser. A former Black Watch soldier himself, he may come across as a gruff character at times, but there is a heart of gold in there and he is as set on rooting out corruption as his colleagues. I liked Ross, liked his relationship with Max and the way in which he has his back at all times. It makes for a formidable trio.
I liked the blend of procedural and story in this book. You can tell that the author speaks from a point of personal experience, with a sense of authenticity but not at the cost of story. The knowledge informs the narrative rather than dominates it, and it is the thrill of the investigation, the threat to the various characters, and that sense of urgency which is built into every chapter, that really drives the pace and the story along. I also got a real sense of place from what I was reading, the author capturing the atmosphere perfectly in the early pages and using it to set the scene and the expectation in readers.
For book one in the series, this had me hooked. I liked that the most unexpected of characters stepped up and that even those who perhaps should have been most vulnerable were not painted as mere victims. There are innocent victims in the book, but that added fuel to the already raging fire in Max’s belly and made me all the more invested in seeing justice being done. There is less question over the ‘who’ in terms of the perpetrator of most of the crimes in the book, more over the who is assisting them, and this mystery kept me alert from start to finish, setting us up for a very exciting premise for future books.
A great start to the series and definitely recommended for fans of the police procedural. I like being late to this party as it means I can get straight on to book two.
About the Author
Neil Lancaster is the No.1 digital bestselling author of the Tom Novak series. His latest novel, Dead Man’s Grave, was longlisted for the 2021 William McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Book of the Year. He served as a military policeman in the RAF and worked as a detective for the Metropolitan Police, investigating serious crimes in the capital and beyond. As a covert policing specialist, he used a variety of tactics to obtain evidence against murderers, human traffickers, drug dealers and fraudsters.
He now lives in the Scottish Highlands, writes crime and thriller novels and works as a broadcaster and commentator on true crime documentaries. He is a key expert on two Sky Crime TV series, Meet, Marry, Murder and Made for Murder.