Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th August 2020 from MacMillan
My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book
Mary McIntyre’s disappearance tore the local community apart, inflicting wounds that still prove raw for those who knew her.
So when the present-day discovery of a child’s remains are found in a peat bog south of Glasgow, it seems the decades-old mystery may finally be solved.
Called in to excavate the body, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod uses the advances made in forensic science since Mary’s vanishing to determine what really happened all those years ago . . . and who was responsible.
One key person had been Karen Marshall who was devastated by her best friend’s abduction. Questioned by the police at the time had led to a dead end and the case soon went cold.
Now the news of the discovered body brings the nightmares back. But added to that, memories long-buried by Karen are returning, memories that begin to reveal her role in her friend’s disappearance and perhaps even the identity of the killer . .
You can read The Innocent Dead as a stand-alone, but I strongly recommend that if this series is new to you, you start from the beginning, because these are characters that you will grow to love and care about.
Rhona MacLeod is a forensic scientist, based in Glasgow though her heart lies in the Isle of Skye. DS Michael McNab is her foil, friend, sparring partner and there’s been a frisson between them for quite some time though their stars never seem to quite align – apart from that one time. There are similarities between the two. Though both are in relationships, neither seems to want a serious long term commitment sufficient to warrant, say, moving in together. And though Rhona is more sought after than seeking, McNab is never slow to spot a pretty woman.
One of the reasons I love this series is that, terrific characters apart, there’s a huge amount to be learnt from these pages about the nature and process of forensic science. Anderson wields this knowledge lightly, but it is integral to solving the cases and is clearly extremely well researched, utilising some of the best forensic brains in Scotland – as witnessed in the acknowledgements.
In this book, Rhona is newly returned to work. A previous case, and years of dealing with some truly terrible murders, had bestowed on her the gift of PTSD and only a combination of therapy and a long sojourn on Skye had get her to the point of feeling she is ready to go back to work.
It’s not long before her first case is brought to her. A child’s body has been discovered by a couple of wild swimmers in a lochan, buried in a peat bog at the side of the loch. A supermarket plastic bag on scene, helps establish some parameters for a timeline and it is soon established that the timeline fits the disappearance of 11 year old Mary McIntyre some 45 years ago.
Now the police and forensic team assemble to look at this cold case afresh. Rhona and her assistant, Chrissy; McNab, still a bit chippy after his demotion, and his partner, DS Janice Clark, a woman who knocked back his advances at the start of their partnership, but didn’t let that impact on their working relationship. Also involved are Professor Magnus Pirie, whose interview with a newly released paedophile who lived in the area has thrown up possible leads, and the former Detective turned author, DI Jimmy McCreadie who investigated the original disappearance of Mary McIntyre all those years ago.
I love the different interactions between these characters and their respective partners. Lots of personal chat, food related moments and some gentle socialising all help to establish these characters as real life personalities and the reader gets to know and form opinions about them all.
In this book, Rhona’s ex, the father of her son, Liam makes a re-appearance and from the outset we know that he’s up to something, though we’ll have to wait and find out what that is. It won’t be good though, that much we can already tell.
A key character to the case is Karen Marshall, Mary’s best friend. But Karen has never been the same since her husband, Jack died, and she still talk to him even as she sees portents that lead her into thinking that she really does need to try and remember exactly what she knew all those years ago. But is Mary a reliable narrator?
Anderson has taken what is quite a complex case and offers up a series of suspects for our inspection. Mary and Karen came from different sides of the religious divide in quite a small community where folk were used to knowing their neighbours and understanding how to deal with them. Children were seen and not heard and that’s how the police dealt with them, too. Mary’s disappearance has always been a source of concern and now with the discovery of the body and developments in forensic science, it looks like answers may be finally forthcoming.
The emotive nature of this case makes the reader wonder how Rhona will react to it and though the death of a child and the potential issues around it are awful, Anderson handles this element well, with care and without resort to unnecessary detail. The solution when it comes is as tense and dramatic as you’d expect and makes perfect sense.
Verdict: Another well-plotted and fascinating case for my favourite forensic scientist. The depth of characterisation, the humour and the interpersonal banter and relationships make this series come alive. The cases are always interesting and I love that sense of place comes through strongly in everything Anderson writes. The Innocent Dead is another winner.
Lin Anderson is a Scottish novelist and screenwriter best known for her bestselling series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod of which there are currently fifteen novels, five of which have been long listed for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, with Time For The Dead being a 2020 finalist.
Lin is co-founder of the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland which takes place annually in Stirling, Scotland, mid September.