Edinburgh, the early nineties. In a dark alley off the Royal Mile, the mutilated body of a young lawyer is found. Soon more bodies follow, each killed in a vicious but different way, all clearly the work of the same killer.
Enter DCS Bob Skinner and his team, most notably DI Andrew Martin. Skinner is convinced that this isn’t the work of a random maniac but with only hunches to go on, progress looks bleak. But eventually a picture begins to form – but is it the right picture?
The Bob Skinner series has just been re-released by Headline books and I took the opportunity of a review copy to revisit a series that I’d dipped in and out of on occasion in the distant past. I don’t think I’d ever read the first one – I have fond memories of Skinner’s Round, which is the fourth in the series. The first seven books are all Skinner’s Something-or-other, by the way, and then the titles become more varied.
As I said, I thought before picking this up, I was sure I hadn’t read it, and after finishing it, I was positive I hadn’t read it before. It’s definitely memorable, but possibly not for entirely the right reasons.
Right – how to explain things without going into spoilers…
It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that the character arrested less than half the way through the book isn’t the whole picture. Otherwise, all we’d have for the rest of the book is the progress of Skinner’s and Martin’s careers, Skinner’s love life and not much else. To be fair, those parts are integrated well. One of the strengths of the book is the characters. They all have an air of reality about them and even in this book, we don’t see their lives standing still. The characters are strong enough that I’ll almost certainly be back to read more about them.
Back to the plot though – flicking through other reviews, it seems to divide readers. Rather than simply taking a turn halfway through the book, it careers across the road and down a side alley that no one knew was there in the first place. It almost becomes a different book in the second half and whereas the first half was a police procedural with a reasonable whodunit element, the second half is a conspiracy thriller that somewhat stretches the bounds of possibility. The identity of the killer is somewhat disappointing, but I can’t say why without spoiling things.
What is good about this section is how Skinner deals with this level of investigation, a good and responsible man being ultimately out of his depth, but plotwise, it didn’t quite work for me.
Having said that, there’s more than enough here to bring me back for more. As I said, this is the first book in a popular series of twenty-plus books, so stayed tuned and I’ll be back with Bob Skinner in the future.