Book review: The Roots of Evil, by Quintin Jardine

The latest instalment in the Bob Skinner series will delight long-term fans, but first-timers might struggle to figure out who’s who, writes Rhona Shennan

Quintin Jardine PIC: Chris Close

It’s New Year’s Day and former Chief Constable Bob Skinner is enjoying the celebrations with his family in West Lothian. The sense of jubilation doesn’t last long, however, as in the middle of the night Skinner is summoned to Torphichen Police Station in Edinburgh. It is here that ex-copper Terry Coates – the one who was found cheating on his wife with an air hostess after “going undercover” – has been discovered dead in the back of a car parked next to that of Griff Montell. Montell was Skinner’s erstwhile protégé, and also the former lover of Skinner’s daughter, Alex.

Could it be that Coates’ fantastical-sounding story of going undercover and discovering a money laundering operation might actually have had some truth to it? Skinner himself had written Coates off at the time, but now that he has been discovered with a bullet in his head, it’s clear that something sinister has been going on. As Skinner and the rest of the team investigate the murder, secrets start to unravel, deep rooted violence from the past is dug up, and it becomes apparent that Skinner has underestimated someone close to him, with potentially disastrous consequences.

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This is the 32nd book in the Bob Skinner series, and – inevitably perhaps – there are the various references to previous stories. Seasoned Skinner fans will no doubt enjoy these callbacks, but they might prove distracting for new readers. There are other obstacles, too, that might get in the way of the story for first-timers, not least the huge cast of characters who are all interconnected in ways that are difficult to untangle without an intimate knowledge of their relationships.

The Roots of Evil, by Quintin Jardine

Although he is originally from the west coast – he was born in Motherwell and educated there and in Glasgow – Jardine clearly knows Edinburgh well and he uses the cityscape to his advantage, with familiar landmarks drawing the reader deeper into the story. The tale is set at the beginning of 2020, and – given everything that’s happened this year – some of the references to a “new coronavirus in China” feel somewhat jarring.

For existing fans of Jardine, The Roots Of Evil will likely be another enjoyable installment in the long line of Bob Skinner mysteries – a tale of intrigue, greed and violence filled with characters they’ve come to know and love. However, it’s perhaps not the best place to start for those looking to dip their toes into Skinner’s world.

The Roots of Evil, by Quintin Jardine, Headline, £14.99

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