HarperCollins | 2017 (2 November) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Now We Are Dead is a stand alone novel featuring the one and only Roberta Steel. Now if that isn’t enough to grab your attention, I don’t know what will, but a quick word of warning. Although this novel stands alone, it contains a fair bit of fall out from the last and monumentally brilliant Logan McRae novel In the Cold Dark Ground. If you haven’t read In the Cold Dark Ground then that doesn’t matter at all for Now We Are Dead but if you haven’t read it and intend to then there are things here you might not want to know so tread no further!
Roberta Steel is back! But not as she was. Stripped of her rank as DCI after that Jack Wallace business, she’s now a DS and having to claw her way back up the ranks once more – while scratching that itchy bra, letching after anything in a skirt and generally abusing all those in her power at the same time as stealing their kitkats. But she cannot let Jack Wallace go. More women are being raped and Wallace is taunting her with alibis and fancy lawyers. Steel knows that Wallace is guilty but she knows that if she goes after him it won’t just be her who’s sacked but also Tufty, her dependable PC. Not that that would matter. It might stop him talking about gravity.
But Steel has much more to contend with than Wallace. As a DS, she’s been thrown back into the police work she would have delegated as Chief Inspector – and that means trying to catch thieves and the other low lifes of Aberdeen’s more dodgy areas. And some of the crimes are enough to make a police officer weep. Even Roberta Steel. There are others, though, that will have them rolling on the ground in laughter, usually at the expense of poor Owen. Why does everyone and everything like to bite Owen? He’s a bite magnet. But the incredible thing is that, despite all this Wallace obsessing, Roberta Steel isn’t just good at what she does, she’s brilliant. But there are some things she does that….. well, this sort of behaviour shouldn’t be seen in broad daylight.
As soon as I heard that Stuart MacBride was bringing Roberta Steel back for a stand alone book of her own I could hardly restrain myself! In the Cold Dark Ground did not finish in a good place for Roberta. I was worried. I needed to know what had happened to her. Nobody bounces back like Roberta Steel and, although she bears the scars and mental anguish of what’s happened to her, she mucks in and gets her hands dirty (this statement does have relevance for a particularly memorable moment of the book). There’s no head holding and whimpering for her reduced status. Steel cowers in front of nobody. She might abuse them, ideally to their faces, but she won’t be ashamed. She knows she was right.
If you’ve met Roberta Steel before then you know what to expect from Now We Are Dead and that’s just what you get, although totally undiluted because there’s no Logan McRae here except in wee walk on spots. This is Roberta Steel loud and proud and she is wicked! But in such a good way. Her relationship with her sorry team of PCs is utterly fantastic! The dialogue is so fabulous I could eat it all up and I laughed and laughed while still remembering that really I should be shocked by Roberta’s outrageous behaviour. I loved the other characters, especially Tufty, and even Owen. Poor Owen. The book is packed full of bits to treasure, although I think the daily vote for swear word of the day is chief among them, or how Steel likes to call on her Native American Chief spirit guide during police interrogations – Big Chief Lionel Goldberg.
But the tender side to Roberta is here, too, hidden though it may be, and that reflects some of the pitiable and awful crimes that she must investigate. These stay on the mind and, we know, they’re on Roberta’s mind as well. How could they not be? Read some of this and weep.
Stuart MacBride with every novel reaffirms my conviction that he is the best crime writer out there today. A Dark So Deadly, published earlier this year, is my favourite crime novel ever and Now We Are Dead isn’t far behind. The mix of humour and tragedy, the finding of humour in tragedy and vice versa, the alluring Scottishness of it all, the wickedness of Roberta Steel and the charm and strangeness of her underlings and overlings, and the evil of what she must confront, is irresistible. And just look at that Winnie the Pooh-inspired contents page… pure gold. I need more, MORE! Roberta Steel is back!