Friday, 30 January 2015

"The Missing and the Dead", Stuart MacBride

"And it's the same people, day after day, shift after shift. All the time, the same manky minks, with their filthy houses and smelly clothes and drug habits. Or drink. Or both. Never mind the nutters."

It maybe takes a while to work out, but Stuart MacBride's latest Logan McRae novel is a tale of purgatory and redemption. Exiled from Aberdeen CID to uniformed policing in the wilds of Banff he finds himself in a countryside prone to the law enforcement challenges of escaped livestock, petty shoplifting, and murdered children. 

With the changes to Scottish policing meaning that every real opportunity to regain his position is frustrated by the arrival of Major Incident Teams and a usual dose of abysmal fate being chucked in his face, this could so easily be another predictable episode in the increasingly dark oeuvre of Stuart MacBride.

Except it really isn't that at all.

The early McRae novels were undeniably violent and not to everyone's taste, but there was a certain joi de vivre to them, which progressively was stripped way to the point where 2011's Shatter the Bones felt as though MacBride and McRae were entering into a very nihilistic spiral towards a bleak place that didn't offer much in the way of hope or light.

"The Missing and the Dead" bucks this trend. Sure, there are moments of real unpleasantness, but the humour persists throughout, and there's a real level of justice running through the text. It almost reverses the concept of tragedy, in that there are places were good things happen for the worst of reasons. McRae is nowhere, but he manages to deliver, and along the way there's even the hint that good things might happen to his life.

As I ran towards the final third of the book there was a feeling in the back of my mind that inevitably MacBride would throw something into the works to strip away the predominantly cheerful feel of the book. The end isn't all sweetness and light, but it's a long way from the shell shock that can permeate finishing other MacBride books.

McRae feels redeemed by "The Missing and the Dead". While I've shied away from revisiting some of its immediate predecessors I can see myself picking this up again, and who knows, it might even qualify for a place as an audiobook on a roadtrip.

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