All That’s Dead by Stuart McBride



Each new addition to the Logan McRae series by Stuart McBride has become my “reward” book: that is, I set myself certain writing and research tasks and only once they’re finished do I permit myself to read the next installment in the life of Inspector Logan McRae and the motley band of loyal, hilarious, brave, foolhardy and often clever people who work with and, sometimes, against him. As a consequence, I relish the experience and then mourn when it’s over, knowing I have to wait at least a year until once more, I can be, albeit for a brief time, part of this madcap, dangerous world that is policing in Aberdeen, Scotland.

In this book, Logan, Steele, Rennie and co have to pit their wits against some Alt-Right Scottish nationalists who go on a spree, committing terrible atrocities against those they believe have betrayed Scottish independence and fostered more than cordial relations with the Brits. The results are bloody and terrifying and the criminals, though identified early, hard to pin down. As a result, the media make scapegoats of the police, representing the law as buffoons who are about as much use (as one great phrase in the book puts it) as a plasticine bicycle.

Against time and bad will, Logan and the team try to prevent another crime, another grisly death. But just when it seems they have all the answers, more questions surface which throw the entire investigation on its ear.

Filled with fabulous, quirky characters, crackling dialogue (that has you alternately splitting your sides laughing or appreciating the emotional depths of a seemingly simple phrase) and written at a pace that will keep you reading well into the night, this is another splendid addition to one of my all-time favourite crime series. Cannot wait for the next one. 

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The Blood Road by Stuart McIntyre.

Yet another sensational instalment in a Scottish crime series that even though it started fabulously, just keep getting better and better. In this latest “episode” DI Logan McRae and his team of Tufty, Rennie and the best written female detective in any series (alternately infuriating, funny, clever and outrageous), DS Roberta Steele, confront a shocking truth: someone they thought they’d buried and farewelled with mixed feelings is resurrected albeit, briefly. Nevertheless, the short return sets off a chain of events that lead Logan and his colleagues to confront a dreadful truth: someone is selling children at auction. There is nothing else that can explain the disappearance of young boys and girls from the local area nor the fact that no evidence or trail is ever discovered, leaving behind misery and despair – and not just for the parents.

But when Logan understand the connections between an old case, a difficult colleague and the current ones, a series of tragic events is set in motion that puts not just the force at grave risk, but innocent children as well.

As usual, McIntyre doesn’t steer away from exposing the terrible underbelly of Aberdeen and the type of crimes committed as well as the lives of perpetrators and their victims. Brutal, McIntyre also manages to not only introduce a gallow’s humour through his main characters, but the warmth of their interpersonal relationships and the desperate lengths they go to try and help the community and the victims of crime. Nevertheless, the ingratitude of society, the culpability of the media in generating this and the way in which even good intentions can not only be foiled but misrepresented and the consequences of this are all there on the page.

Rich in so many ways, the Logan McRae series (and associated spin-offs) are a fantastic read that I find myself savouring because I don’t want the book to end. Alas, it does, and now I have to wait what will seem an eternity for the next one. *sigh*

 

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A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman

A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman is a delicious romantic romp set in contemporary Scotland and which tells the story of Lara McDonald who, after a relationship fails, returns to her home town of Fairview, near Glasgow. Broken-hearted, she takes a job with the catty Kitty Walker in her tea room called True Brew. Unhappy, but determined to heal, Lara befriends the local, elderly laird, Hugh Carmichael, sharing with him her hopes and dreams for a future she fears will never come to pass. When Hugh suddenly dies, Lara finds herself in a strange position: one of her dreams is about to come true, but as it unfolds, in ways she never could have imagined, she begins to wonder if the price is simply too high.

Filled with love lost and won, amazing recipes and descriptions of cakes, breads and slices which, I confess, had me rushing to the kitchen to bake (and eat) myself, the greatest threat this light, fun and always heart-rich tale poses is to your waist-line! The relationships Lara forges and those she resists are wonderful to behold, especially the one she has with her best friend, Morven and her prickly, militant mother. Slowly, as Lara begins to repair her heart, she finds it under threat again, only this time, she seems powerless to prevent herself repeating the same mistakes…

Told with pathos and humour, the story moves at a good pace and the characters crackle with vigour. The Scottish town of Fairview and the grand manor, Glenlovatt, and the food Lara and her friends make and consume also become characters and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with them as well. As I was reading, it struck me that this would make a terrific Hallmark movie – which is interesting as one of Shackman’s roles (apart from author) is to write for greeting cards!

Recommended for lovers of romance, and those who want to escape into a good book, curling up by a winter fire or in some sand, beneath golden sun and heat, Shackman’s novel is a great companion.

Thank you very much to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy. 🙂

 

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The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

When searching for historical fiction set in Scotland, I came across The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Having read and enjoyed The Firebird, I looked forward to this time-jumping narrative as well.

I was not disappointed.

Moving between contemporary times and the early 1700s, the book opens when famous author, Carrie McClelland relocates to the coast of Scotland, Slains, to finish a novel she’s writing on the early rising of the Jacobites and their fight to restore a young King James to the throne. Drawn to a particular area, Carrie can’t explain the strong urges she gets to not just write about the place she now finds herself in, but completely rethink not only the subject of her story, but the plot as well.

Renting a lovely little cottage close to the area she finds impossible to tear herself away from, what Carrie doesn’t count on is the attention of two handsome brothers – dashing, affable Stuart and the quieter, more bookish, Graeme. Nor does she imagine when she begins to write that the voices of the past, in particular of a woman named Sophia, will not only fill her head and heart, but dictate how her narrative unfolds.

As the days go by, Carrie finds that the ghosts of the past are very much in the present and that reality begins to mirror fiction. Unable to control what she writes, will Carrie be able to control her heart?

Moving between the past and present, this lovely book is not only a wonderful romance, it’s a serious and poignant examination of the early period of Jacobite rebellion and the risks and sacrifices those Scots who believed in an independent Scotland and who wanted to cast of the shackles of the newly-formed English Union, were prepared to make. Weaving fact through her fiction, Kearsley tells a story of high-drama, politics, loyalty, danger and love. Stirring in its passion (mostly for the rights and restoration of the Scots and their king), the book also evokes time and place so beautifully. It also explores the agony and ecstasy of being a writer and the relationship those who make living with words have with their agents, imagination, readers and the business that sustains them, if they’re fortunate, in so many more ways than simply financial.

A terrific read that offers so much.

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