The Dead of Winter, Stuart MacBride

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Have to admit it, THE DEAD OF WINTER jumped the queues. No apologies, it's by Stuart MacBride, I managed to get hold of it on audio and it is a time in my life where I need a Scottish accent and a bit of sweary mayhem for distraction.

Readers of other books by Stuart MacBride will be unable to avoid the obvious comparisons, DC Edward Reekie and Logan McRae / DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter and DI Roberta Steel. The similarities are striking, what with Reekie doing a very good line in sotto voce bitching, put upon following orders, a good range of doing the shit jobs, and generally wishing he'd been anything other than a cop. Especially a cop in the middle of a sleepy, quaint, less of the snow-dusted, more of the avalanched on Scottish village filled to the rafters with paedophiles, rapists, murderers, gangsters and crooks of all shapes and sizes. Montgomery-Porter, on the other hand, is very good at being very unpleasant, which Steel only really manages to be in slightly shorter bursts. Montgomery-Porter is also much better at being a constant utter pain in the arse than Steel, who does have her moments of high humour and humanity after all (even if they are a bit blink and you'll miss them).

The other similarity is obviously going to be in plot construction. THE DEAD OF WINTER is a locked room (well village) scenario with high levels of mayhem, in which Reekie and Montgomery-Porter (I suspect he named that bloody character as a get back at those of us typing up reviews ...) are tasked with transporting a notorious old villain from HMP Grampian to a village set up for those that released from prison on special licence. In Markie Bishop's case he's on early release because he's dying but some of the others are there because it's not safe for them to be placed back in the community (either because of what the community could do to them, or vice versa). 

Anyway, the village of Glenfarach is a sleepy little idyll, tucked away in the Cairngorms National Park, with quaint cottages occupied by some truly horrible people, shops, pub, social workers, police station and all. And some seriously atrocious weather. Which catches Reekie and MP (I've given up), whose retreat out of there is waylaid by the discovery of the murdered (with extreme gore) body of an ex-cop / turned gangster resident. About the same time as the blizzard they were trying to avoid lands, and the definition of lands in this case is it chucked down enough snow to choke the life out of everything and anybody. Which means that the small force of a few, mostly inexperienced cops, some social workers (some of whom are also the fire brigade), and the two intrepid dislikers of each other are left to deal with a body count that starts to pile up impressively. With no forensic support (they are trapped way off in the distance), no experienced local police force or backup (they also can't get through the local passes), suspicious fires to go along with bodies, and a missing social worker (at least there's no body there yet...) Oh and there's no mobile reception, the police radios are mostly on the blink, and some numpty "accidentally" got rid of the CCTV from the first killing. On the upside, Reekie eventually finds a clown, teddy bear and tiger walkie-talkies.

So chaos. Crazy, never-ending, unrelenting, always one step away from ridiculous, chaos. As MP shouts, grumps, snarls and bitches her way through "how not to" relate to your colleagues and the public, Reekie stumps around in the snow - in town and in the forest, bitching, complaining and moaning, as more people die and more weird shit happens. Which, given the prologue seems to suggest that MP ends up burying Reekie's dead body, is a bit hard to get an overall direction on. Unless you're really good at double guessing Stuart MacBride. Which I admit I'm mostly not, I'm there for the ride, not the destination.

Of course, on sober reflection, this might sound a bit same old same old. But look at it like this. If like me, you're not adverse to the journey, rather than being always absolutely focused on the destination. If the sillier and more chaotic things get, the happier you are on the ride. If a hefty dose of gore and gallows humour works for you. If you just like the sheer insane daftness of some of these plots, then THE DEAD OF WINTER might just tickle your fancy (and make you grateful that we just have to whinge and bitch a bit when there's a frost and the overnight temp's hit -3).


Year of Publication

It was supposed to be an easy job. All Detective Constable Edward Reekie had to do was pick up a dying prisoner from HMP Grampian and deliver him somewhere to live out his last few months in peace.

From the outside, Glenfarach looks like a quaint, sleepy, snow-dusted village, nestled deep in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, but things aren't what they seem. The place is thick with security cameras and there's a strict nine o'clock curfew, because Glenfarach is the final sanctuary for people who've served their sentences but can't be safely released into the general population. Edward's new boss, DI Montgomery-Porter, insists they head back to Aberdeen before the approaching blizzards shut everything down, but when an ex-cop-turned-gangster is discovered tortured to death in his bungalow, someone needs to take charge. The weather's closing in, tensions are mounting, and time's running out - something nasty has come to Glenfarach, and Edward is standing right in its way...

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