The title of this latest novel in a series by celebrated Scottish crime writer Lin Anderson sounds like a seafaring idiom. Tides wait for no man and can be stemmed, turned and swum with or against, but the tide that washes up an abandoned ship on the shores of Orkney at the start of the book is certainly not responsible for the deaths which have occurred on board.
Three bodies are found in horrifying circumstances – two men dressed as Vikings are found dead from vicious sword wounds in a fighting arena on the ship, while a third body has been burned. Forensic pathologist Rhona MacLeod, already investigating the suspected self-immolation of a woman outside a Glasgow tenement, is choppered north to investigate.
The descriptions of the ensuing autopsies are not for the weak of stomach, but if you are the sort who is fascinated to learn that forensically testing vomit won’t give up the identity of the person who emitted it – and I find that I am – you shouldn’t be phased. The palpable descriptions of the smell of a burned human, however, could finish you off.
Characters in the series are clearly long established with back stories and tangled relationships with each other, both professional and romantic. Previous cases are referred to, which could bemuse a first time reader, but fans will enjoy the updates on who is sleeping with who, and which characters are bearing grudges.
Glasgow cop DS Michael McNab takes centre stage, along with investigative journalist Ava Clouston, who has returned to her family’s Orkney farm after the death of her parents. McNab is a complicated character, not wholly likeable in his unhealthy fixation with an ex-girlfriend. He inspires the trust of his colleagues, despite his continual habit of going off-piste and getting beaten up. Ava is a veteran of investigations embedded with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. She skillfully navigates the dangers of her trade, protecting her sources and making shrewd decisions on how much to share with the police investigation.
It is a cracking story, told at breakneck speed. The love lives of the characters are as complicated as the crimes, with hook-ups on the overnight sleeper and flirtations on the Orkney helicopter. Who knew transport could be such a hotbed of romance?
The peripheral characters aren’t as well sketched as the main protagonists. Irish folk are musical and laid back, Orcadians are gentle and attached to the landscape, Glaswegians are wry, and if you are a character from South of the Border, you are quite likely to be arrogant, cruel or corrupt. Such shorthand is perhaps understandable in a cast of many.
This novel is less of a whodunnit – there are few surprises in the telling – and more a fascinating examination how police and journalists determine a horrifying truth.
The Killing Tide, by Lin Anderson, Macmillan, £14.99
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