The Killing Tide is book number 16 in the Rhona MacLeod series of police and forensic procedurals, but it’s my first exposure to the tightly-knit team that Lin Anderson has created. I was attracted to this particular novel by its part-setting on Orkney, but there is plenty of action in and among the tenements of Glasgow, on the streets of London and for that matter on the Caledonian Sleeper.
Tide follows two murder investigations, one of which relates to a ghost ship that has run aground on Mainland. Both investigations centre on a shadowy organisation that organises lawless kicks for plutocrats and our friends have to battle against political pressure and potential sabotage from within their own ranks. It’s an adventure that rattles along: once you know everyone and are up to speed, the pace increases. The last 150 pages flew by.
Three elements of this novel stood out for me. Many other novels, most novels perhaps, have one or two of these attributes, but Anderson has weaved all three together with disarming effect.
The first is sense of place. Now we’re well used on this blog to Icelandic writers who have centred entire novels on a village or even a couple of houses, completely blocked from the world. Anderson does something different: she celebrates the big city (and indeed celebrates the differences between Glasgow and London), with its mix of anonymity and tight communities, and contrasts it with Mainland which has a different mix entirely. Anderson uses her locations to try different settings of menace: the horror of a calf being murdered on a remote farm contrasts nicely (if nicely is the right term) with being abducted in plain sight in the middle of the capital. And getting our heroes from A to B are trains, planes, helicopters, boats, ships, cars and motorbikes. Only the Glasgow Subway seems to have been left out.
The second element is a sense of sense. Anderson gives you detail on the sights and the sounds. You feel every blow handed to McNab by his tormentors. Unusually, Anderson describes the smells encountered (or generated) by our characters. One character has hyperosmia which he uses to identify that a burning building does not harbour the humans and dog who might have been inside it. Anderson does not forget the sixth sense that is available to most detectives: they run on instinct based on experience and study. The result is that our own senses are heightened throughout the novel.
The third element is a sense of people. The recent TV series of Beck had me thinking about how team dynamics become a help or a hindrance to the overall series. MacLeod and her colleagues are extremely close-knit. They disappear after work to the jazz club where they discuss their lives and loves. Everyone seems to have spent the previous 15 novels becoming polished into three-dimensional characters. And through the various sub-plots we find different point-of-view narrations. The result is that although none of the characters is utterly original, the ensemble which they populate is incredibly so. And as a result of that we find the dynamics refreshing and the occasional piece of exposition light. We get little snippets of each character’s state of mind. No one outstays their welcome or becomes annoying.
It so happens that I’ve been looking for a series of procedurals that moves away from the lone wolf format and acknowledges that intense jobs often require a level of trust, loyalty (different notions of which are explored in detail in this novel) and camaraderie. This aspect of work is not always portrayed well or is done cumbersomely. Well done to Anderson for striking a different balance.
This police procedural has momentum and invention but most of all it is invested in its communities and its people. How did I not know about Rhona MacLeod until now?
Thanks to Macmillan for the review copy.