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Saturday, 24 May 2014
‘Life for a Life’ by T F Muir
St Andrews: championship golf course, high-profile university, beautiful town in equally beautiful setting. It’s a place I’ve never visited, but that’s the image it presents. It has always struck me as a quiet, rural sort of place, especially since it was deemed a suitable location for the once-removed heir to the throne to complete his education.
After reading T F Muir’s Life for a Life, I began to think Prince William was lucky to escape with his skin intact. It starts with the discovery of the battered body of a young girl, and gets steadily bloodier. Enter DCI Andy Gilchrist, to head up the murder enquiry.
Muir is an author who doesn’t pull his punches. Graphic descriptions of murdered bodies abound. The reader is subjected, along with the protagonist, to a detailed, gory account of a video of a killing by decapitation. And the body count, for a quiet, rural sort of place, is phenomenal.
Apparently this peaceful corner of Scotland – which Muir brings to shivering life in the course of an Arctic winter – is a hotbed of organized crime: rape, people trafficking, prostitution, gang warfare: you name it, St Andrews is rife with it.
As fictional detectives go, Gilchrist isn’t out of the ordinary: dysfunctional family, failed marriage, a bit too fond of a dram, ill at ease with his feelings. It’s the supporting characters who provide the spice of variety, especially the women in his life. There’s Nance, detective sergeant, and clearly part of his emotional history. Becky Cooper, glamorous pathologist, is the current temptation, but unfortunately married. And Jessie Janes, another detective sergeant and newly arrived from Glasgow, is mouthy and abrasive with family and secrets which make her almost as dysfunctional as Glichrist himself.
The narrative is peppered with equally interesting minor players. On the side of the angels are Mhairi, detective constable, who stays mainly in the background but reveals hidden depths, luckily for her boss; Jackie the disabled researcher; and Janes’s teenage son, profoundly deaf Robert with a talent for writing comedy, who has huge potential for development. The bad guys are equally well drawn, from Angus the hapless estate agent through provocative Caryl Dillanos to Kumar, the pyschopathic criminal mastermind who remains a shadow until... well, you’ll have to read it to find out.
It’s the fourth in a series, well written though a little inclined towards over-explanation in places, and there are references throughout to investigations and relationships in the earlier books. Given the picturesque surroundings and the colourful cast, Gilchrist is a cop who is ripe for the TV treatment; John Hannah springs to mind, though David Tennant would do nicely is he was free. Though perhaps viewers could do without quite as much gory detail.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
T F Muir Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Frank was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends. Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Frank that his degree was not such a bad idea after all. Thirty-plus years of living and working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank makes his home in the outskirts of Glasgow, from where he visits St Andrews regularly to carry out some serious research in the old grey town’s many pubs and restaurants. Frank is working hard on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.