The Dead Of Winter by Stuart MacBride

Today I am sharing my thoughts on the brand new novel from Stuart MacBride, The Dead of Winter. I’ve long been a fan of the author’s work, loving the darkness as much as the humour, and this book gave me a wonderful blend of the two. My thanks to the publisher, Transworld, for an advance copy via Netgalley. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Netgalley
Release Date: 16th February 2023
Publisher: Transworld

About the Book

It was supposed to be an easy job.

All Detective Constable Edward Reekie had to do was pick up a dying prisoner from HMP Grampian and deliver him somewhere to live out his last few months in peace.

From the outside, Glenfarach looks like a quaint, sleepy, snow-dusted village, nestled deep in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, but things aren’t what they seem. The place is thick with security cameras and there’s a strict nine o’clock curfew, because Glenfarach is the final sanctuary for people who’ve served their sentences but can’t be safely released into the general population.

Edward’s new boss, DI Montgomery-Porter, insists they head back to Aberdeen before the approaching blizzards shut everything down, but when an ex-cop-turned-gangster is discovered tortured to death in his bungalow, someone needs to take charge.

The weather’s closing in, tensions are mounting, and time’s running out – something nasty has come to Glenfarach, and Edward is standing right in its way…

My Thoughts

Well … this book certainly opens up in an unexpected manner. The prologue really is one of those killer (every pun intended) moments that draws me into a story, whether I like it or not. And I really did like it. Intriguing, chilling, quite literally for the characters, and with the kind of ending which catches you unawares and, in my case, made me absolutely want to know just what in the hell is going on. It’s also the kind of prologue that Stuart MacBride is a master in, creating an overwhelming sense of suspicion from the start, particularly when it comes to one of the key characters. But as to their true nature, and the meaning of that opening scene – well the only way I was going to find out was to read the rest of the book, something that proved to be a rather unexpected, but enjoyable, experience.

Stuart MacBride is adept at developing a rather unique set of circumstances for his characters, especially in his recent books in which his dry sense of humour has really come to the fore. I enjoy that necessarily black humour, and some of the more slapstick elements of it, but I also like the darker side of his writing and some of the really twisted, and often grotesque, crimes that he commits on the page. Well, his characters anyway. It’s what drew me to his writing in the first place . With The Dead of Winter, the story tends more towards the dark side – vicious murders, a remote and isolated location cut off from the rest of the country by a sever winter storm – but with enough humour to prevent it becoming oppressively so. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the ‘residents’ of the particular community are all convicted criminals, those whose crimes were deemed so heinous, their presence so much of a risk to the rest of the populace, as well as themselves, that they could not be released into normal society. It is a village full of ex-cons, murderers, sex-offenders and the like, and in that kind of setting anything could happen.

The action in this book centres around DC Edward Reekie and DCI Montgomery-Porter, the two officers tasked with transporting an ex-offender to his new home in Glenfarach. Their simple transport job takes a dark turn and they find themselves investigating a murder with only the towns limited, and inexperienced police force as back up. but in a place full of ex-cons, whose word can you trust. And given what we know about what is yet to come from the prologue, that uncertainty can be extended to pretty much anyone who sets foot within the gated community.

I liked Reekie as a character. He is trusting, out upon by his superior, and a bit of whipping boy at times (sound familiar?), but he is determined, if a little accident prone. His enthusiasm is endearing, and sometimes draining, and his attempt to get the community on side using the sugar not vinegar approach leads to some really comedic moments, highlighting that touch of naivety which endeared him to me. As for Montgomery-Porter (aka Bigtoria), she’s abrupt, dismissive and very much distracted. A hard character to warm, with or without the thigh high snow drifts.

The rest of the police team are a real mixed bag, from the jaded to the unbelievably inept, but they all add something to the story, as do the various former felons who become a key part of the investigation. From the enthusiastically helpful former forensic psychologist, Dr Singh, to the overly friendly handy woman, Jenna Kirkdale, each one adds to the atmosphere, and the intensity, of the story. Singh’s insight proves helpful to the investigation, Jenna’s flirting, a welcome distraction from some of the darker moments. And from the vicious nature of some of the people who cannot keep their base urges in check, through to the manipulative nature of others, its a cast of characters who really keep you on your toes, and who manage to keep the finger of guilt moving between the various suspects. And there are a lot of suspects.

The conclusion to this story is fast paced, high stakes, unexpected and very satisfying. It may not have the true darkness that the author’s earlier works exuded, but it still hits the spot. Just when I thought I had a handle on what was going on, Stuart MacBride managed to spring another surprise, often bringing a smile to my face. I’m thinking of the very creative use of a snow plough for one thing. Yes there are moments which make the skin crawl, but then we are snowed in with hardened criminals. It was never going to be a happily every after for everyone, was it? If you’ve enjoyed titles such as No Less the Devil and Now We Are Dead, then you’ll eat this up. Heartily recommended.

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.

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