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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Shatter the Bones. Stuart MacBride. Harper (2012)

A brutally compelling and engrossing thriller. Plunging into the story right from the opening down to the flinty and unforgiving conclusion this story never slows down. A mother and daughter, rising stars of a televised talent show, are kidnapped and the ransom demand is posted on the internet. The police are left with no clues and increasing public and professional pressure. Detective Sergeant Logan McRae and his colleagues are facing a very public and dangerous failure. As the the pressure mounts McRae find that the results of a botched drugs raid are becoming very nasty. The story, laced with the blackest gallows humour, moves at speed, the reveals are cunningly staged and the the truth is always much worse that it it appears at first. The plot leaves no-one unscathed and the innocent pay the greatest price.
The bleak plot is  gripping, it is still less of an attraction than the vigorous and fantastic cast that boil with energy, frustration and the unmistakable pulse of life. Logan McRae has to work very hard to keep up with the rest of the cast, most particularly the specular DI Steel, who bursts off the pages with a foul mouthed glory. The whole cast of police officers, with a single sorry exception, are satisfyingly diverse and free from genre cliches. They feel like a team under fierce pressure and responding badly while trying to do the job properly. The exception is a surprisingly false note struck by an ambitious and frankly stupid officer from an outside agency. He is a straw man constructed for no clear reason other that to give a face to the bureaucratic pressure the team are under.It is a serious flaw in the book that is written with subtly and care for all the cast no matter how small their role. The walking cliché trips up the reader and throws the reader out of the flow of the story. 
Happily the overall force of the book is so great that it is possible to get back into the swing and enjoy the very savage world that Stuart MacBride has created. The clever manipulation of the easily roused public, entranced by the drama of the kidnapping and enjoying the participation invited by the kidnappers is not heavy handed. The temptation to preach about televised talent shows and the manufacturing of  stars is avoided, the opportunities it presents for brutal exploitation are well presented. The villains are well organised and suitably ruthless, they make the plot work because they are never easy prey. A sub-plot about a the fall out from a drugs raid gives Stuart MacBride plenty of room to create a very memorable cast of shattered and desperate people who are gripping without ever being sympathetic. Using humour to undercut despair this is a superb thriller.

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