RogerBW's Blog

Broken Skin, Stuart MacBride 26 May 2019

2007 police procedural mystery, tartan noir, third in the Logan McRae series. McRae continues to be bounced between Inspectors Insch and Steel, and to try to have a personal life too.

"No data yet," he answered. "It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment."

-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

The problems of the second book return: all the police here, including McRae, are far too prone to leap on any small thing that seems to promise a solution, construct an edifice of theory on top of it, and ignore anything else they learn while following that theory to its incorrect conclusion. (Which may often be a good thing, in that they're expecting only to get one small piece of evidence in more normal cases.) They're also, depressingly if entirely plausibly, instantly dismissive of anyone who's even a little bit different from Normal People.

Which really doesn't help them when a dying man is pitched out of a car outside the hospital, clearly having been involved in some pretty serious BDSM, and they have to talk to people in the scene. (MacBride has done his research; this is probably the most realistic portrayal of BDSM enthusiasts that I've ever read.) Nor when the serial rapist they've been tracking turns out to be a football star, which means both serious money and the Aberdeen mob leaping to his defence. Nor even with an eight-year-old murderer who's been caught on video. And for that matter it doesn't help McRae when he picks up hints that his girlfriend may be up to something dodgy.

So what we have here is absolutely not a story about the genius detective; McRae may have better intuition than some people, but he's still wrong more than he's right. It's more a story about the police succeeding in spite of themselves, simply by being dogged about following leads and talking to people, until they run out of ways to be wrong and end up being right more or less by default.

While I find I can solve many detective stories by non-diegetic means, for example because I've only been introduced to three people who might have done it and it's never just an accident, in these books those tools are encouragingly unreliable. Sometimes – I'm not saying whether it's the case in this book, of course – the murder that kicks the whole thing off might really be a mugging gone wrong. While I wouldn't want to read nothing but these, they're a welcome change in pace from the somewhat formal rules of a classic mystery.

And of course there's plenty of MacBride's atmosphere and banter. There may be pleasant parts of Aberdeen, but you'll never meet them in these books. While the cases are the primary motivation, the squalor of the setting is still a significant part of the enjoyment of reading these books, and while one wouldn't want to spend much time with the people they're still always interesting to read about. Series recommended by Gus; followed by Flesh House.

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Previous in series: Dying Light | Series: Logan McRae | Next in series: Flesh House

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