A Song For The Dying (2014) by Stuart MacBride

Ash Henderson would have been languishing in prison for the rest of his life. Set up by Mrs Kerrigan, an organised crime leader who despises him, he isn’t out her reach even behind bars, as regular beatings and unsurprising retaliations from Ash ensure that he never gets past a parole hearing…

… and then the Inside Man returns. A serial killer that, when he first surfaced, Henderson let slip through his fingers. Now he has a chance to make amends for what he sees as a failure, but he has something that he is determined to do instead. The only way that Mrs Kerrigan will leave him alone is if she is dead – no matter what the cost…

I think I say this every time I read one of Stuart MacBride’s book, but I always feel guilty about leaving it so long between reads. I’ll be honest, it’s the page count. I’m an absolute wuss when it comes to reading a 500 page plus book, but when I do, I never regret it. In part, I suppose it’s because I know I’ll be reading it for a while and hence, especially if something comes up, it’ll be a big gap between reviews on the blog, so I tend to save them for holiday reading and then often forget when the holiday comes around. So, in short, this is why I put it on my Reading Challenge for the year – to make me pick it up.

Because I knew once I picked it up, I wouldn’t have a problem reading it – I never have with Stuart’s work. Yes, it’s dark – I’d say this is darker than the Logan MacRae books, because in those, you’ve got DCI Steele to interject with something both hilarious and profane to lighten the mood. While there are comic touches – Henderson’s former prison guard for example – MacBride seems to have actively chosen to up the darkness here.

Plotwise, it’s a marriage of the two plots, the hunt for the Inside Man and the quest for revenge. Fans of the traditional mystery may well not be pleased that the primary thrust for the majority of the tale is the revenge plot – Henderson keeps working on the investigation, but only until he gets a chance to take his shot at Kerrigan – but when events force him to focus on the Inside Man, MacBride pulls off another killer twist that I doubt you’ll see coming. I’ve praised his books before for having genuine mysteries with a killer clue buried deep within them – while this one isn’t as clever as the importance of the toes in Shatter The Bones, it’s still in plain sight.

I know that traditional mystery fans tend to balk at the level of violence in some modern crime fiction – I do at times, especially when it’s unnecessary for the story – but despite the nasty, nasty things that happen in MacBride’s Scotland, I’m looking forward to my next visit. And, as I always say, I won’t leave it so long this time…

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