RogerBW's Blog

Flesh House, Stuart MacBride 11 August 2019

2008 police procedural mystery, tartan noir, fourth in the Logan McRae series. Twenty years ago, "The Flesher" killed and butchered – literally – people all over the UK. Thanks to flawed police work, he got out eleven years later. But it's only now that more bodies are being found, or rather more packaged meat…

Writers of books involving serial killers can fall easily into two problems: making the killer too boring, so that one wonders why they weren't caught earlier, and making them too interesting, so that they become the hero of the book. This book veers very close to the latter: the killer's background and psychology get a lot of narrative time, in a way that earlier books have largely avoided, in particular with an extended victim's-eye view while she's being held captive and trying to avoid going mad.

This is also a rather more explicitly gruesome book than the last few have been. I don't mind a bit of gore, but I do like it to be in service of the story; this feels at times as though MacBride, having done his research on butchering procedures, wants to work it all in, and at times it starts to feel gratuitous.

There's also the basic structural problem that gur xvyyre trgf njnl ng gur raq, juvpu znxrf bar jbaqre jul gur obbx raqf gurer; jbhyqa'g gur cbyvpr xrrc punfvat gurz?

Apart from these problems, the actual policing side is pretty decent. There are repeated attempts to find patterns, some successful, some not (and even the successful ones don't necessarily help much). There's a lot of research to plough through, and a lot of hateful people to deal with. (One does rather wonder where the administrators are in all this – there are actual rules about maximum working hours, even in the police, but nobody here seems to care about them when McRae can be called in on his day off for more trivial tasks.) Both of McRae's masters, DIs Insch and Steel, have become even more unpleasant since the last book.

Even setting aside the grue, this is not at all a cheerful book, but MacBride's writing manages to salvage it even if he hasn't done as much research as he wants us to think he has ("Heckler and Koch MP5 automatic machine pistol"). Series recommended by Gus.

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Previous in series: Broken Skin | Series: Logan McRae | Next in series: Blind Eye

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