The problem with an author making it onto my "Pre-Order IMMEDIATELY list" is that once the book arrives I have that dreaded "do I read immediately or hoard" dilemma. It's easier with some of my all time favourite authors - there's a few, well not to put too fine a point on it, aren't as young as they used to be. Stuart MacBride, on the other hand, is a young man. Last time I set eyes on him he looked to be in remarkably good health. But still, you never know. Publishers are queer folk and they may suddenly have a brain freeze, or worse still, Stuart may just get distracted by .. well gardening stuff... and forget to write the next one.
So I've come up with a reasonable compromise with these books which is simply "hang onto them until you can stand the suspense no longer!". I held out pretty well with DARK BLOOD but I'm really really pleased I didn't keep it up forever (and the latest book has arrived so it's not like I don't have another one to hoard ... just for a little while.)
DARK BLOOD starts out with one of the best opening sequences I have read in years. One of those opening pieces that make you sit up straight and pay attention. From there the reader is launched into a world of missing informants, sawn-off sledgehammers, fake money, counterfeit goods and jewellery shop robberies. Add to the standard mayhem of Aberdeen on a normal day (well a MacBride normal day anyway), and about the only thing that McRae, Steel and the entire Aberdeen command can agree on is that having one of England's most notorious sex killers "dumped" into their patch on his release from jail is just about the height of all cheek. Which is bad enough, but a Northumbrian DSI tagging along to "keep an eye on things" is dangerously close to taking liberties.
There is always something comforting about returning to a favoured series character - and Logan McRae is one of my favourite characters, although DI Steel is not above giving him a bit of a nudge. Having said that, other readers of these books will be wondering what exactly I'm sniffing if I think McRae, Steel or any of the circumstances of MacBride's books are comforting. But in a strange (okay so slightly twisted) way, they are comforting. That's not to say that things also don't move on in their lives, albeit sometimes slowly. McRae's been doing quite a strong line of greatly put upon, martyrdom in recent books, but in DARK BLOOD he's actually firing up a bit, getting a bit bolshie. Which needless to say doesn't go down well. Nobody could possibly have imagined it would go down so badly that DI Steel would be giving him "advice" on how to get on with others mind you. But advice she does dole out. At the same time that the impending birth of her child is making her life a lot more complicated than she thought it would... especially with conciliatory and caring not exactly coming naturally to DI Steel. As usual McRae doesn't just have to deal with Steel, DI Beattie seems to be going out of his way to behave like a prat, whilst all the time journalist Colin Miller is needling away at the police in general and McRae in particular.
The problem with an ongoing series has to be that it's sometimes too easy to slip into familiar patterns, particularly where the characters and their interactions are concerned. Avoiding this DARK BLOOD has something a little more edgy about McRae - sure he's still a bit of a martyr to the cause, but there's just the occasional flash of a fight back. DI Steel is still delightfully, gloriously over the top, but she's softening just a little, impending parenthood is obviously going to have some sort of affect, but what exactly... well some things aren't to be contemplated too closely. DARK BLOOD also veers away from the more gruesome aspects of some of the recent books, and works harder on a really tight, taut, pacey and interesting plot. There's a realistic feel of pressure - external and within, of competing priorities, and changing levels of urgency. It feels like each of these characters is doing a fine line of tight-rope juggling - personally and professionally. MacBride also isn't afraid to ditch popular characters, to put them in unexpected situations, to pick them up again, and generally to move his chess pieces where the will takes him. But, as always, there's a real underlying humour - some of it observational, some of it almost slapstick, but always with sneaking sense of great affection. The characters for each other, the author for his cast, and in the case of this reader, the reader for the whole package.