Something went wrong in the reading universe a while ago and I missed that this had been sitting in the unread list, when I picked up and enjoyed the second in the series - A SONG FOR THE DYING.
Which weirdly turned out to be a good thing as an introduction to a new character and a new series, BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD is not without problems.
MacBride is not the sort of writer who shilly-shally's around with reader sensitivies. So the fact the (fictional) victims here are children and the way that they die, and the torture inflicted on them and their families being particularly gruelling isn't really the issue (if you don't like graphic then you really shouldn't be reading MacBride's books). Nor is it a problem that Ash Henderson is a deeply flawed, odd sort of a character (if you don't like lunatic characters who come with a hefty dose of odd then you really shouldn't be reading MacBride's books). Alas the problems turned out to be considerably more fundamental. For a start Henderson refusing to acknowledge his very personal connection to these murders might have been in sync with a maverick sort of a personality, and yet, somehow it didn't come across as a personal vendetta, more a personal search for extreme punishment. Which was hard to read, hard to fathom, not so much hard to believe as hard to agree with. Add to that the slowness of the start and a certainly feeling of bogged down-ness which comes from Henderson's car crash life, and from the outset everything feels all out of wack.
Which isn't improved as things get more dire and somehow Henderson becomes less and less convincing. As he becomes less convincing his sidekick for this outing - the "delightfully quirky" psychologist who just simply never shuts up just becomes more and more pointless which also didn't help.
It's also much more obvious in the second book that what we have in Ash Henderson is a sort of anti-hero. A much different kettle of catfish than Logan from MacBride's other series after all, and that made sticking with this bloke, in this book a bit easier. Knowing he does eventually get his act together, and once the pace of the investigation improves and we get out from all the oh look at us stuff, then it certainly does start to show some glimmer of what is to come in the second book.