The Coffin Maker’s Garden, and other books by Stuart MacBride
Recent crime & espionage stuff, or how to waste away the lockdown
Having completed the latest Ian Rankin/Rebus and then re-read the whole series – as reported at a recent Zoom – I turned to another Scots crime writer, Stuart MacBride, who does police crime in North-East Scotland. The latest Ash Henderson story (no. 7), The Coffin Maker’s Garden, relates the tracking of a long-term brutal serial killer near a fictional town, Oldcastle (strong resemblance to Dundee). As a cliff-top house slides into the sea in a fierce storm, a number of skeletons appear, setting off the chase.
In last year’s Logan Macrae story (no. 10), All That’s Dead, Logan cases down an extremist, sadistic nationalist group. The Macrae stories, set in Aberdeen and points North-East, have a measure of Scots slang and some Doric thrown in for good measure (“Fit like the day, loons and quines?”). Aberdonians are somewhile known as “Furry Boots” – “Fur aboots are ye frae?”.
MacBride treats his heroes badly, with inevitable shootings, stabbings, pummellings, as well as promotions and demotions. The murders tend to be brutal, with lots of blood and gore. The Logan Macrae stories have a measure of wry humour, often coming from fidgety, gross Roberta Steel (also on a career roller coaster, changing places with Logan).
And so back to civilisation with the latest, 7th of Mick Herron’s slow horses, Slough House. The surprise is an early resurrection and the end is seemingly another demise of a favoured slow horse. The Brits have wiped out a Russian agent responsible for a kill in England and the FSB engages in reprisals targeting Slough House. After two recent retirees are eliminated, Jackson Lamb takes the slow horses into the black while he plans his fight back. Lady Di Taverner, First Desk, engages in some dubious liaisons with Peter Judd of Prime Ministerial aspirations, which leads to some private enterprise support that goes wrong, and Slough House is picked as a sacrificial lamb (sorry!?!). (Some lengthy verbal duelling that drags on.)
And from Internal Security to action abroad the latest – 18th – Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon, The Other Woman. The story starts in Vienna with the failed defection of “Heathcliff” from the Russian SVR, most likely because of a mole in the UK’s MI6. The action takes place also in London, Bern, Zurich, Strasbourg, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Washington DC – all much favoured in Daniel Silva’s stories about an art restorer/Israeli assassin, Gabriel Allon, who has charge of the “Office” (Mossad by any other name?) thrust upon him. Tracking down the mole leads to a meeting in Andalucía with Charlotte Bettencourt, retired leftwing journalist and former wife of Kim Philby, whose life and lies cast a long shadow over the action. Smooth, sophisticated, fast-moving.
Review by Sam Laird