Shatter the Bones

Monday, 29 August 2011

Here's a perfect example of the way a crime fiction series can suck you in,  because if I'd read the blurb on the back cover and noted the Aberdeen's own mother-daughter singing sensation are through to the semi-finals of TV smash-hit Britain's Next Big Star I may well have been inclined to put it back on the shelves.

I may have glanced at that phrase, but the Stuart MacBride on the front of the book meant I wasn't going to be put off by reality TV shows on the back.

Now I wouldn't presume to suggest MacBride shares my aversion for what I regard as a poisonous television genre and my disdain for the audiences that allow themselves to be inveigled into they're only celebrities because the hype machine says they are celebrity gossip, but the genre, its procreators, the participants, and the fans aren't presented in a favourable light.

I haven't made a practice of watching the real life equivalents of MacBride's fictional Britain's Next Big Star, but I assume a combination like a widowed mother and her six year old daughter singing Wind Beneath My Wings to a Dad killed in action in Iraq mightn't be a good thing to take out the big one at the end of the series but would be guaranteed to keep the publicity machine in overdrive up to the point where they're eliminated and for a few weeks thereafter…

Of course, if some unscrupulous type was to kidnap Mum and daughter and hold them to ransom, publicity machine overdrive would be guaranteed to turn into media feeding frenzy, and if the kidnapper went on to amputate two of the little girl's toes…

With a public appeal to raise the ransom, the glare of media attention and the predictable public vigils there's plenty to keep the Aberdeen police hopping, and it's not as if the regular criminal around the city is going to take a back seat to allow the police to focus their attention on the search for Alison McGregor and daughter Jenny. It's obvious from the start the kidnapping isn't the work of total amateurs. Those responsible for the act obviously know the ins and outs of forensic evidence and there's nothing on the crime scene, in the phone booth where the severed toes are found or anywhere else that provides anything much in the way of forensic evidence.

MacBride works this side of things very well, delivering a narrative from a couple of viewpoints including the internal thought processes of the kidnapped daughter, who's determined to be a Brave Little Girl through it all. There are a number of clues scattered through there to catch the reader's attention though, of course, none of them are going to help the police with their inquiries. Those familiar with the series will know what to expect, and MacBride runs through the regular elements while throwing in a few new ingredients to vary the mix. 

Journalist Colin Miller continues to drop bombshells in press conferences and on the front page of the local paper. The Aberdeen police are, as usual, undermanned, overworked with the overtime budget blown out of the water, so, as usual there's twenty-four-seven on call involvement for MacRae and his colleagues.  

The new element  comes in the form of Superintendent Green from the Serious Organized Crime Agency, who's been landed on them as part of the MacGregor investigation and has obviously based his approach to policing on what he's seen on TV.

There are glimpses of DI Steel's partner and daughter, and given MacRae's tendency to get himself seriously injured in the course of his duties it probably comes as no surprise to learn that his Goth girlfriend ends up in an induced coma in what seems, at first, to be collateral damage as part of an on-going drug investigation.

So, as the investigation into the kidnapping and the on-going dramas associated with a drug bust intertwine, the fan hysteria and the media pressure for a successful outcome build and MacRae's in a position where the temptation to cut corners has implications and intriguing possibilities for the next few titles in what has been a very good series. It's not, however, one for the faint-hearted, and anyone with an aversion to almost unrelentingly bleak subject matter and extreme violence would be well advised to look elsewhere. DI Steel and Biohazard Bob continue to provide semi-light relief, though neither of them are family dinner table-friendly fare either.

© Ian Hughes 2012