MacBride had me at Cold Granite, his first thriller published in 2005. I read it on a beach. I can’t remember where, but I can remember barely peeling my eyes off the damp sand-encrusted page to grunt responses to my beloved. Groupie-dom ensued and I’ve picked up each successive episode about Aberdeen’s down-trodden Sergeant McRae, but his latest, Dark Blood, reads as if not only McRae but MacBride had folks breathing down his neck for a result. Publishers know a good thing when they read it (and sell it), but quality can suffer if driven by a marketing deadline.
Dark Blood starts promisingly, with McRae drafted in to babysit a newly-released sexual offender, whose conversion to Christianity feels as slimy and inauthentic as his slicked-back hair. Then a nail-gunned corpse is found on the building site of a dodgy property developer, then stolen goods turn up here, there, and everywhere, and then, and then…. plot strands unravel in every direction, like hanks of wool tipped from a knitting basket. Did MacBride start four or five books concurrently then realize he had to knit everything together? I backtracked every time I picked it up to work out where I was and by the end I didn’t really care as long as McRae was still breathing. It also has a cast size to do Tolstoy proud.
Sergeant McRae is a nice (slightly bent) bloke, but he’s been frog-marched to the disciplinary board too many times to make his continuing employment realistically tenable, so he’d better keep his nose clean in the next few books or we’ll need a new hero. It’s his boss, the brash, lazy, lusty, wedgie-adjusting D.I. Steel, who lights up (and literally in) every scene. Steel’s plans for a sun, sea, sand, sex, and sangria bonanza prior to her impending parenthood combust leaving her with an unquenched libido and a nasty rash. MacBride’s patter is always a delight, by the way, though the Glaswegian Colin wasn’t as funny as he could have been and some quips echo from previous books. I know we all yabber in a limited vocabulary (I repeat myself a million times a day), but real-life repetition tends to be invisible, while the same is not true of fiction.
My groupie status has slipped; but it’s lopsided, not entirely lost. No doubt MacBride is key-hammering through his new book as I blog this line, and I hope he’ll say to any agents or publishers clamoring at his door, “Eff-off, I’m no done yet.”