I am a huge fan of ‘Tartan Noir’ – that brand of murder mystery set in Scotland, usually Edinburgh, featuring a detective or policeman who has/had a drinking problem, issues with his family and is involved in a dark, murky criminal underworld. I think my favourite Tartan Noir is any book by Ian Rankin but, and this is a big but, these worlds are so masculine. Women are hookers or wives, mothers or daughters but rarely detectives or protagonists. Because of this, I was delighted to discover Chris Brookmyre’s Sharp Investigations series, a female-focused Tartan Noir set in a dark, corrupt Edinburgh.
The first two books in the series (which I read PB (pre-blog)) are Where the Bodies are Buried and When the Devil Drives. The first features Jasmine Sharp, a wannabe actress who, following the death of her mother, starts working for her uncle’s private investigation company. When her uncle goes missing, she meets Detective Catherine McLeod, a policewoman who has her own family and profession problems in the course of the investigation. It’s a great, very entertaining book, and the follow-up, which has a stronger focus on police corruption, was just as good. Within one hour of finding out there was a third one in the series I had tracked down a copy, had it in my hand and I could not wait to start! But, unfortunately, this third novel was a huge disappointment.
For starters, it starts really really slowly. The book contains three separate stories, each one with its own timeframe and featuring a different character. Additionally, each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and these characters are sometimes separated by time and space and sometimes not, so it was really hard to get into the novel or develop any affinity for any of the characters. Once I hit page 150 and the disparate storylines began to become more related to each other, the pace quickened up a little bit but with the attention spread over so many characters, I never really engaged with the text.
The biggest problem for me was that the thing I enjoyed most about the previous books, the strong female characters, was missing in this one. This is a book about men and about fathers, both good and bad. Jasmine and Catherine barely rate a mention and their concerns are merely glanced at within the traditionally Tartan Noir masculine universe of police, gangs and crime. Even worse, there is a twist ending that doesn’t work at all, especially within the context of the other two books in the series. I can’t say any more without giving away spoilers but it just doesn’t make any sense! Very, very frustrating.
Chris Brookmyre is a good writer and I might have liked it more if I hadn’t read the first two in the series and liked them so much (four stars each). But I did, so I give Flesh Wound two stars.