Source: Purchased copy
Publication: Five Leaves Crime June 2012
The first in a series of books with D.I. Ray McBain – a Glasgow detective who turns to his best friend, Kenny O’Neill when he goes on the run after he becomes the prime suspect in a grisly murder.
An old man is found murdered in his Glasgow flat. DI Ray McBain is called to the scene and is the first to notice that the man’s wounds mirror the Stigmata. The police quickly discover that the victim is a former janitor who worked in several care homes where he abused his charges. Is someone taking revenge thirty years after the fact?
McBain, as a child was a resident of Bethlehem House, a Catholic run care home where the murdered man worked and early on in the investigation, McBain decides to hide a crucial bit of evidence relating to his stay in the convent orphanage.
When his superiors find out, McBain becomes the prime suspect in the case and has to make a decision which will leave him on the run and alone, trying to solve the murders and, at the same time, the puzzle of his past – a past that is pushing into the present with a recurring suffocating dream of blood and feathers that descends on him every night.
I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Michael J. Malone’s most recent books, so last year whilst at The Wee Crime Festival in Grantown on Spey, I picked up a copy of his first crime novel, Blood Tears. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile since then, so this blog tour was a terrific opportunity to knuckle down and read it.
Oh boy, am I glad I did! Dark, gritty and yet with real warmth and a great deal of humour, this is a class piece of work.
Blood Tears begins with a murderer brutally killing a man and inflicting wounds in the form of the Stigmata. At once we can see that this is a deranged killing. Glasgow cop DI Ray McBain is not slow to realise the implications of this type of killing and before long we discover that the victim is a paedophile who has worked at several children’s homes, including a Catholic orphanage, Bethlehem House.
DI McBain is a good-humoured, self-deprecating cop and his team largely look up to him. He is also a bit of a loner. Not normally much of a drinker, his social life involves a married woman whose husband works away a great deal. His closest friend is Kenny O’Neill, a man whose life has taken a polar opposite direction to McBain’s when it comes to the good and bad sides of the fence.
McBain sends his team out to cover all the children’s homes where the victim had worked and he and his new DC Allesandra Rossi, head to Bethlehem House. There he asks the Mother Superior for a list of the children who would have had contact with the murdered man. That’s when it becomes clear to DC Rossi that McBain was one of those children as he removes his name from this and asks her to say nothing, citing his presence at the pub with his team on the night of the killing and suggesting that his removal from the case because of this connection would be plain daft.
Sadly, this is clearly a poor decision by McBain as he implicates his colleagues in complicit behaviour and as the killings continue McBain’s omissions make him look more and more like the main suspect. Now he will have to prove his innocence while investigating the case on the run.
The strength of the book is largely in the way that McBain’s memories of his time in the children’s home begin to re-emerge. The strict and unyielding way the orphanage was run has had a long lasting impact on him and though some of his memories are suppressed, he remembers with clarity the cruelty and harsh treatment he received from some of the nuns. As the killings continue and the case progresses, he finds his dreams becoming more raw and grotesque, leading him to question his own mind and what really happened back then.
McBain is written as a first person narration and this is what really makes the book work. There is rawness and vulnerability depicted in his character that really speaks to the reader. You can’t help but like him, flaws and all, and his need for love is clearly what draws women to him, though he doesn’t see this in himself at all.
His character is the embodiment of how children who are poorly and sometimes cruelly treated by those who should have their best interests at heart can develop. He and the killer have more in common than either might imagine. The covering up of abuse is now well known, but the impact on the children is lifelong and devastating.
Gritty, engrossing and with some gloriously gruesome moments, this is book with a thoroughly compelling plot and a stand out character.
Verdict: Unmissable. The complex character of McBain is a keeper.
About Michael J Malone
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult.
He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In- Residence for an adult gift shop.
Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.
More about Michael here.
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About Michael J Malone