After you've been a reviewer for a few years, it's hard to be taken by surprise. You hear the advance word about books, and you know what to look out for. Sometimes, though, you find a new author and a great book through sheer serendipity. And there's nothing sweeter than that.
I hadn't heard of Scottish writer Stuart MacBride until I picked up a paperback edition of his first novel, "Cold Granite," in a bookstore in Ashland, Oregon. Because I'm inundated with ARCs, I don't pay full price for many paperbacks, but I do like to shop for books while on vacation. A tale of child murders in Aberdeen, "Cold Granite" caught my eye, and I took it back to the Bay Area with me.
And it was great! One of the best first novels I'd read in a long while. Gruesome, funny, suspenseful, different. I ran to the library and found MacBride's second book, "Dying Light." It, too, did the job with wit and precision.
Now comes "Broken Skin," or as it's known here in the U.S., "Bloodshot." Which is a crap title, I must say. The book is about the hunt for a serial rapist and includes a major subplot about a BDSM enthusiast who is, um, sodomized to death. So maybe St. Martin's is justified in being skittish and choosing the less-squicky title. But still...
MacBride seems to have studied the lifework of another illustrious Scottish crime writer, Ed McBain. (Kidding...) These book have the flavor of the best "87th Precinct" novels. Instead of Steve Carella, MacBride gives us Logan McCrae as the nominal protagonist, but there's a well-drawn cast of supporting characters who pursue various lines of investigation.
What I particularly like is McCrae's fallibility. He's an experienced professional, but he makes horrible mistakes, ones that lead to disastrous consequences for innocent bystanders. For all the banter and comic business, these book can be deeply disturbing.
Although I have plenty to occupy myself with in science fiction and fantasy, I sometimes wish that I could cover crime fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle. MacBride's books are ones that I would like to introduce to a much wider audience. So, go read them, you!
Oh, and Amazon offers big savings if you order "Broken Skin" and "Bloodshot" simultaneously.