Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th August 2018 from Pan McMillan
While illegally street racing in the underground tunnels of Glasgow, four Harley-Davidson riders make a horrifying discovery: a dead man left in the darkness, hands together on his chest as if peacefully laid to rest. The cause of death is unclear, the only clues being a half glass of red wine and a partially eaten chunk of bread by his side that echo the ancient religious practice of sin-eating.
Called to the scene, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod is perplexed by the lack of evidence. But when another body is found near her own flat, laid out in a similar manner, she fears a forensically aware killer stalks the city and is marking the victims with their unique signature. Even more worryingly, the killer appears to be using skills they may have learned while attending her forensic science lectures at Glasgow University.
There are signs that Rhona is being targeted, that the killer is playing with her and the police, drawing them into a deadly race against time, before the sin-eater’s next victim is chosen . . .
I have got to the point with Lin Anderson’s Rhona MacLeod series where each one of these books is eagerly anticipated. I think she’s one of the best crime writers out there. Each book comes with its own surprises, and I never fail to learn something about Scotland and often, Glasgow.
Sins of the Dead is no exception. From the outset, my imagination was captured by the idea of waking nightmares. Sleep paralysis which causes physical and mental symptoms of fear and claustrophobia, only, in this case, to continue when the sufferer awakes.
In Sins of the Dead, we get the opportunity to be pretty up close and personal with all the main protagonists, as we focus on Rhona’s relationships when the personal and the professional become inextricably linked as a series of deaths that Rhona and D.S. Michael McNab are investigating lead to the inexorable conclusion that Rhoda herself is being targeted.
We have come to know and love Rhona as a scientist with a healthy respect for the dead and what they can teach us. As a forensic scientist, she excels but her close relationship with death also means that she likes to live life to the max.
In Sins of the Dead, McNab’s girlfriend, Ellie, is one of four women Harley riders who make a gruesome discovery: a dead man left in the darkness, hands together on his chest, beside him the ritual red wine and half eaten bread, symbolic of the ancient practice of sin-eating. The bikers have been illegally street racing in Glasgow’s underground tunnels, a favourite of urban explorers. Ellie is worried that a dangerous killer may be at loose in the tunnels and concerned that McNab won’t take well to her illegal nocturnal activity. So she says nothing and that immediately creates a chasm between them as McNab knows something is wrong, but has no idea what.
McNab and Rhona are both called out to the scene but the absence of any forensic evidence is a real problem. When another body is found near Rhona’s flat, with the same sin-eater characteristics, she begins to think that this killer has forensic knowledge. A funeral parlour nearby has also experienced some strange goings on with bread and wine. Could Rhona be the one who taught the killer what they know?
At Rhona’s suggestion, forensic psychologist Professor Magnus Pirie is called in, and he suggests that the bread and wine could be related to an ancient painting of a medieval sin-eater, a grotesque goblin who eats the sins of the dead to give them absolution.
The tangled love interests of Rhona and on/off sometime lover Sean Maguire come up against McNab’s own conflicted interest and Magnus Pirie’s need to be close to Rhona.
To make matters worse, it looks like her cat has been poisoned, which means she’s had a stranger in her flat and then to add insult to injury, her DNA is found in two places at a crime scene, meaning that she is suspended until the contamination can be explained.
Rhona and McNab’s relationship is undergoing a particularly tense and spiky period, though he will of course always have her back, but this tension doesn’t help Rhona in one of the most difficult cases of her career. She’s stressed for other reasons too. She needs to decide what to do about her relationship with Sean, and it seems that she may have another admirer, too….
I loved the focus on Glasgow and its hidden underbelly and the genius idea – entirely factual – of all the people who take MOOC’s in forensic science, all potential serial killers in the making!
The interplay between the central characters is tense and sometimes nail biting as the action intensifies and we realise that it’s not just Rhona whose life may be in jeopardy. D.S. Michael McNab does his now perfected impression of a spiky thistle on the warpath as he tears up and down the country in pursuit of a not wanting to be found Ellie.
By turns warm and personal then intensely terrifying and brutally dangerous, Lin Anderson takes her readers on a roller coaster journey with immaculate forensic research, where you hold your breath until you know for sure that the killer will be brought to justice.
Verdict: This is Lin Anderson at her best. Sins of the Dead has all you expect from a Rhoda MacLeod novel and more. An intense and thrilling journey through Glasgow’s hidden underbelly.
About Lin Anderson
Lin Anderson is best known as the creator of the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod series of crime thriller novels, and for her part in founding the annual ‘Bloody Scotland’ crime writing festival, dedicated to promoting Scotland’s other great national export. Lin’s Rhona MacLeod novels have been nominated three times for the William McIlvanney Award for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year.
Lin has a second mystery thriller series featuring private investigator Patrick de Courvoisier, set in glamorous Cannes (think ‘The Rockford Files’ meets James Bond).
Lin has written one non-fiction book: ‘Braveheart – From Hollywood to Holyrood’, telling the story of the making of the Braveheart movie, and exploring what became known as the ‘Braveheart Phenomenon’.
Lin is a graduate of the University of Glasgow (MA in Mathematics), University of Edinburgh (post-graduate degree in Education), and Edinburgh Napier University Screen Academy (screenwriting). She is a award-winning scriptwriter, with her work broadcast internationally on radio and TV. She received a Celtic Film Festival ‘best drama’ award for her ‘River Child’ film.
Lin is a former Chair of The Society of Authors in Scotland, regularly chairs events at literary and science festivals and conferences, and gives talks on ‘Forensic Fact Meets Forensic Fiction’, entertaining audiences with amazing true-crime anecdotes, and giving unique insights into her world of story-telling.
Follow Lin Anderson on @Lin_Anderson