No Less The Devil (2022) by Stuart MacBride

The Bloodsmith butchered his first victim seventeen months ago, but the Oldcastle Police Force are still without any leads. Bodies are found in a terrible state, with the phrase “Help Me!” written in blood on the walls. But with no leads and no progress, resources are being assigned away from the case. Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh is asked to revisit the case from the beginning – but when she reviews the murder scenes, it seems the killer’s message, long since cleaned away, has reappeared.

A second case appears at exactly the worst possible time. Benedict Strachan hunted and killed a homeless man when he was eleven. Now out of prison, he is begging Lucy to help him, convinced that “They” are out to get him, despite his claims that he kept his silence. Is it possible that someone – or something – is after Benedict? How does the threat to Benedict relate to the Bloodsmith? And how can one police officer possible handle the encroaching darkness?

So, how is Awesome April going? My plan, after Mediocre March, to read only great books?

I was worried about this one. Not the content of the book, Stuart MacBride is always a favourite of mine whenever I find time to read his work, but given my reduced reading attention span at the moment, I knew I had to make sure I put aside enough time. Stuart doesn’t write short books, giving the story and characters time to develop, and, more importantly, the Puzzle Doctor household has just acquired a Nintendo Switch and between Mario Kart driving duties and exploring Hyrule in Breath Of The Wild, I was concerned about my reading time. So given that this book is out on the 28th of the month, I started reading it nice and early. And then two days later, I finished it. So there you have it – No Less The Devil is better than Breath Of The Wild, the apparent best video game of all time. Let’s see the publisher use that on the blurb!

Having said that, I suppose I should say something about the content of the book, but the less said, the better, I think. It’s not a traditional detective story by any means, but a modern police procedural. There’s not that much of a whodunnit here – the one surprise villain is very guessable – but that’s not the point of the story. It’s much more of a “what’s going on?” story, black as the night and, despite this, with some very witty dialogue. The story goes in some unexpected and dark directions and the ending is, shall we say, not a traditional end to such a tale and will be staying with me for some time.

Oh, one thing, Lucy spends some time early on referring to a past incident – I thought I’d missed something, not having read The Coffinmaker’s Garden which is, according to Wikipedia at least, part of the same series of Oldcastle-set books, most featuring Ash Henderson. This is completely a standalone novel, however, and the background is revealed during this book, an incredibly effective and disturbing sequence.

Definitely a book that you should read knowing as little as possible beforehand – I wager some reviews will use a certain phrase that might well end up spoiling things for people who think too much. If you’re a fan of modern crime thrillers, then this is definitely one that should be on your must-read list.

No Less The Devil is out in hardback and ebook in the UK on Thursday 28th April from Transworld Publishers. Many thanks for the review e-copy.

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