Book review: Close To The Bone, by Stuart MacBride

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IN AN alternative Scotland, the ruling Kirk employs secret agents known as Fingermen, who protect the country against witches and their murderous dark magic.

Close To The Bone

Stuart MacBride

Harper Collins, £16.99

This isn’t the plot of the latest book by bestselling crime writer Stuart MacBride, but the plot of the book-within-the-book, Wildfire, which has inspired a series of grisly copycat killings around the Aberdeenshire patch of DI ­Logan McRae, where the cult teenage fantasy is also being turned into a movie.

But there were many times, slogging through Close To The Bone’s 511 pages, when I wished a witch really would turn up, perhaps to cast a spell on McRae and his colleagues to cease their incessant, trivial chat. Oh, how they go on: the book has a particularly high ratio of dialogue to description as the police team moan, bitch and waffle about what they’re having for lunch, their promotion prospects, their sex lives and all the rest of what passes for workplace banter.

Characterisation is not MacBride’s strong point: sometimes any one of three similar-sounding women could be ringing up to shout at the ­beleaguered inspector. Often the basics of who’s speaking, where they all are and what’s actually going on are lost without going back to clarify.

This is the 13th MacBride book since 2005 and the eighth McRae novel – perhaps more time for another solid edit would have helped.

McRae has suffered over the past few books and seems distracted here. Tuning out of one conversation, he substitutes a general response to cover: “Austerity measures. We’ve all got to do our bit. All pulling together in the same boat, etc. Pick your cliché.” It unintentionally serves to critique a style that MacBride can now probably do in his sleep, though it certainly distracts from the gory murder scenes.

As for the mystery, there are some convenient coincidences but not much suspense. And there’s a major revelation late on which some may see as a clever psychological twist but others will feel is an annoying cheat. Overall, not enough magic. «