In the Cold Dark Ground | Stuart MacBride | 2016 | HarperCollins | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book
Hard as it is to believe, there was once a time, not that long ago, when I had read not a single Stuart MacBride novel – when I lived in ignorance of Sergeant Logan McRae and his astonishing (it’s not easy trying to find the right word) sometime boss Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steel. Thank heavens those days are in my dark and murky past. Now I know what it’s like to celebrate the arrival of a new novel in the series, to welcome it with a hug and to be so grateful that it tops the 500-page mark.
You might have gathered that I am rather a fan of this series. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it is my favourite crime series and I would rather be reading one of these books that doing almost anything (except perhaps relaxing on a beach in the Indian Ocean, and then I’d be doing the relaxing with a Stuart MacBride novel or two tucked into my hammock).
In the Cold Dark Ground is the tenth in the Logan McRae series and it is fantastic. I knew it would be but I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to exceed last year’s superb The Missing and the Dead, which featured in my top 10 crime fiction and thrillers of 2015. It did. It might be January but I’m already sure that In The Cold Dark Ground is the crime novel to beat in 2016.
I imagine it would be no bad thing to read the series in order – events from the past do affect the present. However, I’m reading the series from both ends and I’m enjoying the process, knowing that at some point I’ll meet up in the middle. But not too quickly – I want these books to last.
As usual with these novels, In the Cold Dark Ground has a host of plots to feast on, beginning with the discovery of a naked body in the woods with a bin bag taped over its head. DCI Steel is going to rely on Logan to solve this one for her. That’s what he’s good at. But Steel and Logan go back a long way, their shared history is unconventional to say the least. And if anyone can stand up to the smoking (eCiggie these days), bra-adjusting, foul-mouthed, smutty Steel it’s Logan Seen-it-all McRae. But there is an awful lot on Logan’s plate and a story that has affected his life utterly to the core over recent novels reaches a head. But Logan has more to endure than that – he is in a pickle and it’s one from which several people are determined he should not emerge in one piece. And as if that’s not enough, a new Superintendent has turned up and her sole mission in life is to make Logan’s life a misery.
DCI Steel is usually in trouble more often than she isn’t and this novel is no different, although now it is getting serious and for the first time I really began to worry. Steel is a fabulous creation. She has all the flaws and more that you can imagine but her loyalty to Logan is as solid and reliable as the ground beneath her feet. She will literally fight for him and here she does just that. The powers that be in the police know this and pressure is put on Logan to report her faults, spy on her. There is such a strong sense here that the forces are gathering against Logan and Steel, and not just within the police force either. This is a tense read, thrilling and engrossing, and the fact that we care so intensely for Logan and Steel raises that tension through the roof. I missed bus stops reading this book.
As always, Stuart MacBride perfectly combines the investigation of murders and other crimes with his portrayal of the men and women who pursue the criminals. There are goodies and baddies on both sides, all of whom are fascinating, whether they appear for just a few pages or come and go throughout. I love that these are substantial novels. They are immersive reads, they are funny (I only have to think of the ‘Sacred Wooden Stick of Crime-Scene Dominion) and so sad, gruesome and terrifying. Above all, they are fantastic and In the Cold Dark Ground is, in my opinion, the very finest of them all. If I have to wait another year for the next, it might do me in…
Crime catch up: Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae series