Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 Oct. 2017 from Caffeine Nights Publishing
It feels like history is repeating itself when out-of-favour detective Will Harlan gets summoned to a crime scene in the village of Brackenbrae after a young girl is found hanging in the woods.
Five years ago Harlan headed up the investigation of an identical murder in the same woods; a mishandled investigation that effectively destroyed his credibility as a detective. The new case immediately takes a bizarre twist when the body is identified as the same girl found hanging in the woods five years ago.
The following day a local man commits suicide and the police find more dead girls hidden in his basement. The case seems open and closed.
Until the killing spree begins.
Harlan finds himself drawn into a dark world where murder is a form of self-expression and human life treated as one more commodity to be used and discarded.
The only clue that links everything is a large oil painting of ‘Sagittarius A’ – a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy orbited by thirteen stars daubed in blood with the words – Heart Swarm
I’m also reading Wasp Latitudes by Allan Watson, which is Book 2 in the DCI Will Harlan series, so I thought I ought to start at the beginning and read the first book, Heart Swarm. Wow. I am so glad I did. Now, I like my crime on the dark side and it’s fair to say that this book fits squarely into the dark zone of my brain.
From its inventive opening to the large body count that follows, this is a book that grabs the reader by the short and curlies and never lets go.
Set in a small village just outside Glasgow, Heart Swarm introduces us to DCI Will Harlan. A man not without issues, something of a serial shagger and with a daughter he adores and a now remarried ex-wife who can’t stand to see him, his baggage is packed in trunks rather than a backpack. Harlan was once a damned good detective but he badly messed up a high-profile murder investigation and lost almost everything as a consequence, including his marriage. Since then he has been marginalised at work; overlooked for everything except the most tedious of cases
Now he’s living in a hotel close to Glasgow’s Necropolis, which feels more than suitable, run by an ex-con. It’s fair to say that Harlan never sets out to make friends, either at work or elsewhere. He’s not an immediately likeable character, and he tends not to command unswerving loyalty from his team, though it does feel like his friendship is something you could rely on.
Cara McAuley, his sidekick is also an intriguing character. She has her own issues, but she is straight as a bat and a great foil to Harlan. Their relationship is complicated and can only get more so as the case progresses and Harlan has to keep more of what he learns to himself.
There are times in this book where Heart Swarm feels like a horror rather than a police procedural, but then murder is horrifying and some truly awful things do happen in the real world. Watson does not shy away from any of these and his book deals with some gruesome issues from cults to paedophilia to necrophilia. Thankfully it stops just short of being overly graphic, but I’d still say that this is not a book for those who prefer their police procedurals to be bloodless.
Sometimes eye-wateringly dark, sometimes feeling slightly overblown, Watson brings us a book full of pace, great characters, a complex plot, the odd conspiracy theory and a host of twisted, gruesome moments.
Verdict: Well written, dark and occasionally making my stomach queasy, I’m so glad to be racing on to the next book!
About Allan Watson
Allan Watson is a writer whose work leans towards the dark end of the fiction spectrum. He is the author of seven novels – Dreaming in the Snakepark, Carapace, The Garden of Remembrance, 1-2-3-4, Monochrome, Heart Swarm and Wasp Latitudes.
In between the books, Allan wrote extensively for BBC Radio Scotland, churning out hundreds of comedy sketches, in addition to being a regular contributor for the world famous ‘Herald Diary’.
He occasionally masquerades as a composer/musician, collaborating with crime writer Phil Rickman in a band called Lol Robinson with Hazey Jane II whose albums have sold on four different continents (Antarctica was a hard one to crack)
Allan lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland, but has never worn the kilt or eaten a deep fried Mars Bar. He also once spent three days as a stand-in guitarist for the Bay City Rollers, but he rarely talks much about that…