Book review: The Innocent Dead, by Lin Anderson

The latest book in Lin Anderson’s Dr Rhona MacLeod series is populated by a colourful cast of characters with richly imagined backstories, writes Rhona Shennan

Lin Anderson

Lin Anderson is a Scottish author and screenwriter, best known for her crime series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. Her short film River Child won both a Scottish BAFTA for Best Fiction and the Celtic Film Festival’s Best Drama Award, and she is also the co-founder of the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland.

The Innocent Dead, the 15th and most recent book in the Rhona MacLeod series, is set in Glasgow. Karen Marshall, who is still haunted by the 1975 abduction of her childhood friend, 11-year-old Mary McIntyre, is going back over the diaries she kept at the time. Meanwhile, two swimmers discover the remains of a child in a peat bog south of Glasgow. Could the two things be connected? Enter Dr Rhona and her assistant Chrissy to handle the preserved body and forensic evidence, and DS Michael MacNab to lead the investigation.

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MacLeod, MacNab and Marshall all try to figure out what happened to young Mary in their own ways - through science, investigation and memory respectively. Between them, these three characters take on the bulk of the narration duties, and what they uncover is a story full of twists, turns and buried truths that reveal a nightmarish crime.

At times, the exposition regarding characters and their histories with one another can feel a little heavy-handed, but condensing 15 novels’ worth of history for the benefit of new readers who have never picked up a Rhona MacLeod story before can’t be easy. The same applies to some of the references to past cases - for new readers, these might feel like distractions from the main narrative, but for dedicated fans of the series they will feel like rewards for being in on the story. On the whole, however, these call-backs are done in a way that is informative but still intriguing - enough to entice a reader to go back and explore the rest of the Rhona MacLeod world, perhaps, without detracting too much from the story at hand.

Throughout the book, it’s clear that Anderson’s greatest strength is her characters, which feel fully realised and three dimensional, with richly imagined backstories, and the character of Dr Rhona MacLeod, in particular, can take her place alongside other Scottish crime icons like Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, Val McDermid’s Dr Tony Hill and Stuart MacBride’s DS Logan McRae.

The Innocent Dead by Lin Anderson, MacMillan, £14.99

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