Review - A SONG FOR THE DYING - Stuart MacBride
Said it before, should say it again. Will read anything Stuart MacBride publishes... eventually. And yes I know they are extremely violent, dark, with a warped sense of humour and slightly mad edge. What, therefore, is not to love.
A SONG FOR THE DYING isn't, however, a Logan McRae novel but don't let that make you lose hope. There's an equally good cast of misfits, mad buggers, scrappers and fighters here. Which is just as well as it's not easy for an ex-cop like Ash Henderson to survive a spell inside. Especially as even there, arch-enemy, gang boss and evil bitch Maeve Kerrigan can still seem to get to him with impunity.
This is the second Ash Henderson book and I'm shocked, somewhat amazed, and more than a bit disappointed in myself to find that I've not read BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD (despite having it in my stash since release). I plead insanity. Having said that, it was only half-way through that I twigged that there was another book, so the lack of back story didn't matter a jot. Not when Henderson is in jail, not when he refers to deaths in his family in the past, nor when he's tagged and released to help out with the investigation into the return of the bizarre and sadistic killer nicknamed "The Inside Man". Out of circulation for a quite a while, the return of the Inside Man means Henderson's called upon as he's the only cop that even came close to nicking him in the past.
Needless to say the details of The Inside Man's modus operandi are revolting. After grabbing and drugging women, they are "operated on" and a cheap plastic doll inserted into their abdominal cavities, before being stitched up, dumped and then in a particularly cruel twist, their own pre-recorded message played to emergency services from the nearest payphone. Everyone is very keen to get this monster before more women have to suffer, although Henderson isn't likely to follow the rules as closely as authorities would like. Being electronically tagged to team member psychiatrist Dr Alice McDonald isn't going to stop him from going after The Inside Man in his own way, and hoovering up the problem of Maeve Kerrigan along the way.
So many of the elements of Stuart MacBride's books are there. Complicated team member relationships, put upon heroes, a bit of bizarre behaviour on both sides of the law, some whatever it takes goings on, and some mightily pissed off people with some scores to settle. The plot gallops forward and the physical damage inflicted on Henderson would make a lesser man at least take a nap sometimes. We're not, however, in Aberdeen anymore but that doesn't stop the rain and the general bleakness of the weather. There's also a certain level of violence and depravity that I've come to love in MacBride's writing. It's fiction after all, and I've always maintained I like my worst of human nature on the page rather than the streets or TV screens.
The interesting thing about A SONG FOR THE DYING is that Henderson is a lot more suspect than Logan McRae will ever be. Anti-hero he might be, as wrong as it might feel to be on his side, he's a tremendous character who you can't help but cheer on. From a long way off in the sidelines mind you. As with all the characters around him, if you get too close, you're going to get a bit of heat rash.
Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret…
Five years ago his daughter, Rebecca, went missing on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. A year later the first card arrived: homemade, with a Polaroid picture stuck to the front – Rebecca, strapped to a chair, gagged and terrified. Every year another card: each one worse than the last.
The tabloids call him ‘The Birthday Boy’. He’s been snatching girls for twelve years, always in the run-up to their thirteenth birthday, sending the families his homemade cards showing their daughters being slowly tortured to death.
But Ash hasn’t told anyone about Rebecca’s birthday cards – they all think she’s just run away from home – because if anyone finds out, he’ll be taken off the investigation. And he’s sacrificed too much to give up before his daughter’s killer gets what he deserves…