Wednesday, 20 May 2009

“Blind Eye”, Stuart MacBride

Aberdeen crime writer Stuart MacBride is often dismissed as an imitation of Ian Rankin, similar, not without his good points, but inherently not a patch on the original much, in fact, in the way his native city struggles in comparison with Rankin's Edinburgh. In both cases this is a little unfair, just as Aberdeen is a different city to Edinburgh, with different strengths and weaknesses, MacBride's general feel differs quite profoundly from Rankin's.

Stuart MacBride is a highly entertaining author in person, and this sense of fun readily translates into his writing. On this level “Blind Eye”, perhaps even more so than in his previous works, is a deeply funny book. Moments of slapstick violence such as McRae pressing a spade into service as an impromptu truncheon, the light hearted ineptitude of Grampian Police's armed response unit, and the absurdity of a pornographic remake of the Wizard of Oz all serve to make this the sort of book that one very happily reads. The risk of this is, however, that one is sometimes lulled into thinking that this is a comedy (albeit a black one) – the sort of genre that doesn't generally agree with me (think Christopher Brookmyre or Patricia Cornwell's Andy Brazil series) – and to do so would be to do a grave disservice to “Blind Eye”.

For all the levity surrounding DS McRae's investigation there is a gritty darkness underpinning the story. The casual exploitation of the immigrant community, the moral ambiguity of a prostitute rebelling against her violent pimp, and the horrific pattern of graphically described blindings refereed to in the title cut through the humour and serve as an abundantly clear reminder that for all his ability to joke about it, MacBride is still very much best categorised under crime rather than humour.

The universe MacBride has created, with an Aberdeen where it often rains and where provincial journalism can exert disproportionate influence, and a police force whose general activities seem to ring broadly true has become a familiar one which I'm happy to regularly visit. The characters are richly enough developed to be mainly rounded humans in their own right, the central cadre well built up with a novel specific supporting cast that add complexity and depth to the overall experience. Critically in dealing with a city I've known well for many years there are few if any anachronisms or spatial discontinuities that jar, which embeds the work just the right side of plausibility.

Probably a bit more predictable and linear than its predecessor, “Flesh House”, “Blind Eye” is nonetheless a highly enjoyable and readable police procedural that continues the Logan McRae series with some aplomb.

As something of an aside, “Blind Eye” was acquired at Stuart MacBride's launch tour event at Waterstone's Picadilly and this reinforced the impression of him as a highly entertaining human being. His repertoire of stories is well worth hearing and he has a presence in front of an audience which reveals his theatrical background, particularly memorable was his ability to survive a conversation regarding bondage related themes with an audience member who was forced to point out that she was only 14. His ability to handle with courtesy and kindness the more eccentric members of the audience was also a very nice touch. As an author, through his magnificent blog, and in his periodic media appearances he's come across as a genuine and engaging person and it's most pleasing to discover that this impression is also communicated in person.  

1 comment:

  1. I saw this author last year at Harrogate and, like you, think he is very funny. I read his first novel (very hyped) but I've never been that motivated to read more. Maybe I should give him another try?