As I was reading Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride, I suddenly remembered that some British films are released into the North American market with subtitles. It’s not just the accents and the slang. It’s all the cultural references that most people living outside Britain probably wouldn’t understand. Some of Ken Loach’s films have suffered the subtitle fate which inevitably consigns each film into the very limited art house circuit. It’s somewhat annoying. Apparently, we Brits don’t need any help with American accents and slang. It’s that old cultural imperialism assumption that British peasants have seen and heard enough American television shows and films that we can instantly translate everything into our own version of English. . . Anyway, as I was reading this book I was happily smiling at how impenetrable the language would probably be to our trans-Atlantic cousins. Or, even if they could guess what it was supposed to mean, they would miss the essential humour in seeing dialogue like this written down. I’ve met people who talk like this and it’s genuinely refreshing to see a fairly credible version of it presented for general consumption. Too often we find ourselves in some posh world where people still talk as if stuck in a 1950s or 60s timewarp when everyone wanted to write another of those Golden Age detective novels that hadn’t quite gone out of style. Dark Blood is not some police procedural or routine detective fiction. This is the people of Scotland in the raw with a tough, no-nonsense approach to their lives and work. I was completely mesmerised.
So let’s cut to the chase with the set-up. Dark Blood is the sixth book to feature Logan McRae in the Cold Granite series set in Aberdeen which, as everyone who lives north of the border knows, is nicknamed the Granite City. As if the city didn’t have enough local criminals to worry about, it’s now the holiday destination of Richard Knox, a sex offender of epic proportions who abducts and rapes old men, now released into the community after serving his time. This will necessitate a small addition to the Sex Offenders’ budget to offer both supervision and, almost inevitably, protection should his presence become known. To help resettle him, DSI Danby flies up from Newcastle. As always, it’s a joy to the local force to have the benefit of an outside officer’s knowledge and experience. Meanwhile, there’s a flood of counterfeit goods and funny money appearing, while a crazed man with a baby in tow seems intent on robbing a jewellery store with the help of a sawn-off sledgehammer, there’s a flasher in action even though the temperature is too cold for brass monkeys, and an informer has gone AWOL.
Naturally, all this would normally be well within the competence range of this dedicated team of professionals except Logan McRae is struggling with an alcohol-fueled attitude problem. He feels no-one loves him so there’s no need for him to love any of them back. Such a confrontational approach can only last so long before those in power begin suggesting he might have to take his hook and sling it in a distant place completely disconnected from the police force. And this despite the most supportive of DIs to work for. Indeed, Steel’s ability to sing him a lullaby in tune but without the words, only la-la-las, is one of the things keeping him going. Anyway, as the delights of babysitting the sex offender pall, Logan finally decides he should clean up his act. So, with a new-found determination, he stops drinking. Every time he feels himself weakening, someone hits him, more often than not, over the head. He finds this is worse than the hangovers he had been experiencing and has no desire to make it worse by actually consuming anything alcoholic.
When the body of the snitch turns up on a building site owned by a gangster, the pace of the book, which has not been exactly slow-moving, accelerates into top gear as our hero adds smashing up cars to his repertoire of things to do when you want to take your mind of drinking. Then the situation get into a right pickle as our sex offender’s address is outed and journalists camp outside to record events as local people argue their case Mr Knox should be relocated to someone else’s backyard. Several fights and a few inspirational la-la-las later, an entirely more sober McRae finally comes through with most of the right answers. He may still not be flavour of the month with the powers that be, but he’s done his best to clean the vomit off his notebook and, with the level of personal odour reduced below biohazard, he’s slowly on his way towards some well-deserved rehabilitation — possibly in the next book in the series called Shatter the Bones.
So if you’re into highly idiomatic vernacular dispensing wit and wisdom about life for the Scottish finest and their prey, both local and visiting criminals, Dark Blood should be right up your street. It’s full of incident, not of the pretty variety, and packed with memorable characters. All in all, terrific entertainment!
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.