Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Bantam Press
My thanks to Transworld Books and Bantam Press for an advance copy for review
‘We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.’
It’s been seventeen months since the Bloodsmith butchered his first victim and Operation Maypole is still no nearer to catching him. The media is whipping up a storm, the top brass are demanding results, but the investigation is sinking fast.
Now isn’t the time to get distracted with other cases, but Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh doesn’t have much choice. When Benedict Strachan was just eleven, he hunted down and killed a homeless man. No one’s ever figured out why Benedict did it, but now, after sixteen years, he’s back on the streets again – battered, frightened, convinced a shadowy ‘They’ are out to get him, and begging Lucy for help.
It sounds like paranoia, but what if he’s right? What if he really is caught up in something bigger and darker than Lucy’s ever dealt with before? What if the Bloodsmith isn’t the only monster out there? And what’s going to happen when Lucy goes after them?
I suspect this one is going to divide the fans of Stuart MacBride’s fiction. In No Less the Devil, we are in the familiar territory of Oldcastle and the crimes are just as dark and full of grit as you’d expect. The writing is fabulous. Full of satire, wit and the sharpest of observations; this time we have new members of the Police Scotland force based there.
DS Lucy MacVeigh is a very proficient police officer. She is struggling though after a very brutal incident in her past which is still affecting her. Her boss is making her see a therapist, but she resists with every fibre in her being.
MacVeigh is partnered with D.C. Duncan ‘The Dunk’ Fraser, an unfit smoker with a chip on his shoulder and an appetite reflected all the way down his uniform. We learn that Lucy is dogged by the repercussions of that incident in her past. In particular she has made an enemy in Sarah Black, the mother of Neil Black, a vicious predator. Is it Sarah Black who stalking Lucy? Lucy still has bad headaches and moments where she phases out but she powers through these.
Oldcastle Police are struggling to make advances on a case that has been splashed across the front pages and discussed by the media for a long time. The Bloodsmith as he has been dubbed kills his victims in the most horrid of ways, leaving a message behind to identify his handiwork, not that it is needed. His signature is too gory to belong to anyone else. 5 dead bodies and not a single lead nor have they found any discernible connection between the victims.
With a year and a half since his last victim the police are chasing shadows and getting nowhere. ‘Operation Maypole’ is a failure and they know it. So the ‘highheidyins’ have passed the case onto D.I. Alasdair Tudor and his team and that’s what Lucy and Dunk Fraser are assigned to.
Starting from the beginning to examine the cases with fresh eyes Lucy and Dunc begin to take a fresh look at the case by revisiting each of the victims and re-examining their homes and the crime scenes.
Also simmering in the background is Benedict Strachan, a child killer who killed a homeless man when he was just 11 years old. He confessed, but though the police knew he had an accomplice, he has always refused to do anything other than take full responsibility for the crime. Recently released from prison, he is convinced someone is out to get him and has sought Lucy’s help to protect him.
In MacBride’s trademark fashion there’s a lot of humour in this dark tale. Some of it is biting satire, some much more slapstick. When Lucy’s stalker slashes her tyres, she is reduced to using her late father’s Bedford van – bright pink with a much misunderstood logo…
About half way through this story I started to think that not everything was quite as it appeared. Soon after, hints were dropped that confirmed that suspicion and from then on things took a different turn and we were on a rollercoaster ride.
With Lucy’s boss pressuring her to get results and make sure she takes time to see a therapist for her PTSD, Lucy finds she is also being dogged by Professional Standards following accusations made by Neil Black’s mother.
What really works for me though is the combination of Dunc’s running commentary on the class system and inequality and the absolute portrayal of the governance of the country as depicted through a fee paying school with a very long reach.
It is on this level that MacBride’s satire really takes off as he takes an excoriating look at privilege, corruption and the criminal justice system, among others. Lucy McVeigh is certainly an interesting character to add to Oldcastle’s array of misfits and MacBride laces his dark, visceral book with comedic farce and black humour as he takes us to the dark places in the minds of some very dangerous people.
Verdict: I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. When it comes to hitting his targets, MacBride doesn’t miss and hit the wall and there’s a lot of social commentary here that I really enjoyed seeing through the prism of the Oldcastle police force.
Stuart MacBride is the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He’s also published standalones, novellas and short stories as well as a children’s picture book. Stuart’s novels have won him the CWA Dagger in the Library, the Barry Award for Best Debut Novel, Best Breakthrough Author at the ITV3 crime thriller awards and a Dead Good Reader’s Award. He has been shortlisted for the Barry Award, and twice for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Gherkin, Onion, and Beetroot, some hens, horses, and a vast collection of assorted weeds.