In the 31st instalment of the Bob Skinner series, Quintin Jardine shifts the focus away from Skinner and towards his eldest daughter Alexis, who prefers to go by the name Alex. The move breathes new life into the series, but traditional characters from previous tales still make meaningful additions to the plot’s many twists and turns.
Throughout this well-constructed novel, Jardine explores Scotland from Millport to Dundee and Glasgow to Edinburgh, but he focuses mainly on Edinburgh in a way that will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a knowledge of the city. A few surprising settings beyond Scotland’s borders also pop up as the plot progresses.
Feeling that her job in corporate law is going stale, Alex decides a career change is necessary and opts to start representing criminals as a defence lawyer. Shortly after starting her new role, however, she is asked to look into something on behalf of her former detective father. Nine years ago, an independent councillor and cornerstone of the community, Marcia Brown, supposedly took her own life, after allegedly being caught shoplifting in her local supermarket in Kilmarnock.
Both her son Austin and her ex-husband David were shocked by her suicide. Marcia had vowed to fight the charge, convinced that she had been set up by a rival councillor, Gloria Stephens. Hell bent on clearing his mother’s name and taking revenge on what he sees as an inept local police force, Austin is involved in setting up a website that uncovers police incompetence and corruption. However, when he is murdered in suspicious circumstances, his father approaches Skinner in order to have the case of his ex-wife’s death reopened, believing Austin’s death would not have happened had it not been for his wife’s alleged suicide.
After meeting David, Alex feels that there are grounds to at least explore the possibility of foul play. Conscious that her father cannot be caught up in a police corruption investigation, she solicits the help of a female investigator, Carrie McDaniel. However, once the investigation gets under way, things begin to turn sinister and it seems Alex’s life could be in danger, at which point Skinner can no longer sit idly by. For all the intricacies of the plot, The Bad Fire still feels like crime-by-numbers at times: certain female characters can seem unrealistic, and after a while the repeated references to Bob Skinner’s hard man persona begin to grate. Still, the attempts to modernise the series with subtle nods to modern popular culture are intriguing. Jacob Farr
The Bad Fire, by Quintin Jardine, Headline, £19.99