Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 April 2020 from Contraband
When police are called to a murder scene at the home of Aberdeen socialite Annabel Imray, they are under pressure to get a conviction, and fast. The last thing they want is the distraction of a series of baffling break-ins. The victims, all of them women, are terrorised: just how did the intruder know so much about them?
Meanwhile, local PIs Maggie Laird and Wilma Harcus are at rock bottom, their bills mounting. As Maggie prepares to sell her home and contemplates dissolving the agency, Wilma goes off-piste to get a loan. But when the clock starts ticking on repayment, she realises the price is too high.
And before long, Maggie herself is in grave danger. Wilma fears the worst. Can she find her before it’s too late?
Time spent in the company of Maggie Laird and Wilma Harcus is never wasted. These two are an odd couple and that’s undoubtedly part of the reason this series works so well. Big Wilma is loud, bold and a wee bit brassy but with a heart of gold. I always think of her as the Aberdonian Bet Lynch (from Coronation Street; you have to be of a certain age). Maggie on the other hand is a wee bit too buttoned up. Stressed out, widowed and struggling to put her two teenage children through their education – in Colin’s case private school and in Kirsty’s university, she is finding keeping the private investigation agency afloat harder than she originally envisaged.
Wilma is a bit fed up too. Maggie wants her out there dealing with the bread and butter cases. The insurance frauds and finding new business is where her focus should be, but Wilma likes a wee bit of adventure. She’s all for the stake-outs and jobs that let her use all those covert toys she’s bought, like car trackers and lock-picks.
In this book, which works fine as a stand-alone, Maggie and Wilma find themselves trying hard to get the consistent paying cases, even taking on a missing cat case, but even so they find themselves embroiled in something altogether more dangerous.
Claire MacLeary has a canny way with light and shade. Her books are not afraid to deal with dark and gritty subject matter, yet she manages to inject a degree of humour into them so that we feel a lightness of touch and find ourselves laughing as often as we gasp at developments.
One of the sources of mirth often comes, as it certainly does in this book, from some of the more unreconstructed members of Aberdeen’s finest. Queen Street Divisional Police Headquarters is headed up by D.I. Allan Chisholm and his team. They aren’t best pleased when they are asked to investigate a slew of petty thefts from homes. Then Annabel Imray a young socialite is murdered. Despite some obvious candidates, Chisholm and his team are having trouble identifying the culprit.
Claire MacLeary’s book keeps up a strong pace and the narrative structure neatly weaves together the different plot lines into a strong and coherent strand. The descriptions of people and places are extremely well done and Aberdeen springs to life in her vivid settings adding yet another layer of authenticity to her writing.
The characterisation is strong. In each book we get to know Maggie and Wilma that wee bit more and I certainly felt as if I understood a bit better now where Wilma’s lines are drawn. That’s one of the big strengths of MacLeary’s characters, they feel like real people; people you can get to know and like.
The investigations are nicely done and tie up well and the whole book is a delight to be savoured.
Verdict: Payback is an excellent and engrossing read, with two protagonists you can’t help but love and will want to return to time and again. Strongly recommended.
Claire MacLeary lived for many years in Aberdeen and St Andrews, but describes herself as “a feisty Glaswegian with a full life to draw on”. Following a career in business, she gained an MLitt with Distinction from the University of Dundee and her short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies. She has appeared at Granite Noir, Noir at the Bar and other literary events. Claire’s debut novel, Cross Purpose, was longlisted for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize, Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award 2017.