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Scotland has been a fertile ground for crime fiction for many years, with the TV series "Taggart" created by Glenn Chandler set in Glasgow, Ian Rankin's "Rebus" novels from Edinburgh, also a long running TV series, a bit further north for Anne Cleeves' novels about police life in the Shetland islands. Stuart MacBride joins this group with books set in Aberdeen and other cities.
Fans of the genre will be familiar with MacBride's novels featuring Aberdeen detective Logan McRae, a series which has taken the author to the top of the sales table in the UK. His latest book, 2021's "No Less the Devil" makes a break with the McRae character with a different location and new characters.
The book is the fifth novel set in the fictional town of Oldcastle, a thinly disguised Edinburgh, a city mentioned enough times to tell the reader that Oldcastle is somewhere else. (There is an Oldcastle in Ireland.) Previous books in the series featured detectives Ash Henderson and Callum MacGregor and the main character in this is Lucy McVeigh, her first appearance.
The main theme of the book is the hunt for a serial killer who removes body parts, particularly hearts, and as is usual in works like this the job of the detectives is to try to find links between the victims and to anticipate any future murders. A link is finally found which identifies the killer, although there is one victim who doesn't fit the pattern.
Unfortunately the latter part of the book starts to read like a dream or a series of delusions and wanders into areas of superstition and even possibly science fiction. The murders are explained (except for the anomalous one, although there are strong hints) and terrible things happen that take the plot in bizarre directions.
Enthusiastic readers of MacBride's Logan McRae novels and even the previous Oldcastle books would be disappointed by this one. It reads as if MacBride has run out of realistic police and crime ideas and now feels the need to shock readers. Luckily there doesn't seem to be any way to continue the Lucy McVeigh character into future novels so maybe the author can get back to what he is very good at, writing realistic crime fiction.
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