HarperCollins | 2017 (20 April) | 608p | Review copy | Buy the book
When DC Callum McGregor is informed of the discovery of a body in the city of Oldcastle, Scotland, he makes the mistake of hoping that his luck might be about to change. Because Callum is one of The Misfit Mob, the place where Police Scotland dumps the police officers it’s not able to sack. But it appears that the proper police are a bit overstretched and this is a body too many for them to cope with. It’s all too good to be true, of course. The body turns out to be a mummified corpse hidden in the local tip. Callum knows how it feels.
But soon one mummy turns into two and the surprising evidence indicates that this might not be the work of a prehistoric murderer after all, but of one alive and well and thriving in the constantly rainy city of Oldcastle. It’s no coincidence that a number of young men are also disappearing. With reluctance, the powers-that-be allow Callum and his fellow Misfits to stick with the case. Being expendable and rather desperate might stand them in good stead.
What a group of characters these Misfits are, and all with good reason for hating where they’ve ended up, whether it be for taking the rap for somebody else’s wrongdoing, or for being injured, or for turning in corrupt former colleagues. They are driven by a fierce sense of injustice and this can make them very grouchy indeed with each other – especially between Dot and Watt. But they have an extraordinary leader, DI Malcolmson, known to her officers as Mother. That’s when she lets them call her Mother. Callum hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. But, blimey, she is a force to be reckoned with. And she is well supported by her second in command, the maudlin McAdams, who believes that if something can’t be said in a haiku then it isn’t worth saying.
How to describe the goings on of A Dark So Deadly? I’m not going to try. It is an absolutely stunningly rich and multi-layered novel. On the surface it might be a crime novel, with all of the pleasingly twisty and complex plotting you could wish for, but there is so much more to it than murder. This is a novel set in a fictional Scottish city but it is as real as any place on Earth, and not just because of the fantastic maps that adorn the inside covers, and the people who live in it are entirely believable and alive. Totally alive. There is so much going on, so many crimes – this is not the most contented city you can imagine – all going on at the same time and Callum and his fellow officers are deeply immersed in them all.
The officers have their back histories as you can imagine when you see how they’ve ended up, but Callum’s personal life delivers punch after punch and it’s a wonder he’s still standing. It is extraordinary. And I wanted to stand up for him so much. I felt deeply invested in Callum, and in the others, and especially in Mother whom I absolutely adored. I cannot describe in adequate words how much I loved these characters. How much they made me laugh. There might be cursing and all manner of insults but there is such a warmth behind it. Even the baddies made me care. Until they did something really bad.
At this point I should mention that Stuart MacBride is one of my all-time favourite novelists and his Logan McRae books are my favourite crime series. A Dark So Deadly isn’t part of that series and it is a completely stand alone novel. When I picked it up I felt about 10 seconds of regret that I wouldn’t be back with McRae and Steel but that feeling sharply dissipated as soon as I started reading this fabulous novel. Callum isn’t McRae and Mother isn’t Steel but I fell for them in exactly the same way and if we don’t meet them again in another novel, I will be distraught. Distraught, Stuart MacBride!
A Dark So Deadly is 600 pages long. Normally, I would argue that this is too long for a crime novel but of course this is no ordinary crime novel. In fact, I would suggest that 600 pages is far too short! I did not want it to end and I read it in two glorious days. I must also mention that the hardback is a thing of beauty. The maps I referred to earlier are gorgeous and brilliantly done. It is so hard to believe that Oldcastle isn’t a real place. Not that I want to go there…
I have no hesitation in proclaiming A Dark So Deadly to be, in my opinion, the most enjoyable crime novel that I have ever read. This is quite a statement but it is absolutely true. It’s complex, ambitious, warm and completely engrossing, tragic and funny, compelling and perfect. Do not miss it.