Former McIlvanney Prize nominee Lin Anderson takes Dr Rhona MacLeod out of her comfort zone literally as well as metaphorically in this latest book to feature the forensic scientist, with a trip to the heights of the Cairngorms in the depths of winter.
Despite reading Follow The Dead over the course of a couple of warm, sunny August days, I felt a chill as Anderson evoked the snow and freezing winds of a Highland winter storm – and further chills as a climber met a man she took to be a helper, only to discover that helping her is the furthest thing from his mind.
MacLeod, on a Hogmanay holiday in Aviemore, takes up an invitation to join the mountain rescue team on a call-out to a plane crash, and to investigate the deaths of a group of climbers found nearby.
Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Michael McNab is back in Glasgow, spending his New Year’s Eve leading a raid on a nightclub which offers a blizzard of its own, in the shape of a huge haul of cocaine – and a surprise in the form of a group of women who have been smuggled into the country. McNab is horrified to discover that one of them is just 13, and puzzled to discover that although she is from Syria, she speaks Norwegian.
But within hours, problems with the case have begun – and they don’t let up, with the arrival of Norwegian Police Inspector Alvis Olsen adding to the mix.
So, a handful of chapters in and we’re all set for one of Anderson’s intricately woven yet unshowy plots – nothing here is gratuitous, nor is a word wasted; all the action, violence and dialogue serve the story, flesh out the characters and keep the reader eagerly turning the pages. And while, as you’d expect from the 12th novel in a series, familiarity with previous instalments pays off, there is nothing here to deter a new reader.
As if cocaine smuggling and the mysterious Highlands deaths aren’t enough to be dealing with, Olsen reveals to MacLeod and McNab that he believes there were worse things in store for the women rescued from the nightclub raid than being trafficked across the North Sea.
Although the ever-careful Anderson shies far away from specifics in this part of the story, leaving the horrors to our imagination, I have to admit the book would have lost nothing had this element been omitted altogether. The wrapping up of the case is also a little too low-key for my taste, considering the dramas that have gone before, though the final comeuppance for the mystery climber is peculiarly satisfying, and the time spent with MacLeod, McNab and Olsen sets us up well for the next instalment of Anderson’s series.
All in all this is a scintillating read, and whether you are already an Anderson fan or have never picked up one of her books I would recommend spending some time with Follow The Dead – though you might need a blanket handy to deal with the chills.
Lin Anderson is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Antti Tuomainen on Thursday at 10.15am. She also appears with Ragnar Jónasson and Thomas Enger at Bloody Scotland in Stirling on 9 September at 3.45pm