Tuesday, June 11, 2019


ALL THAT'S DEAD by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Inspector Logan McRae was looking forward to a nice simple case – something to ease him back into work after a year off on the sick. But the powers-that-be have other ideas…

The high-profile anti-independence campaigner, Professor Wilson, has gone missing, leaving nothing but bloodstains behind. There’s a war brewing between the factions for and against Scottish Nationalism. Infighting in the police ranks. And it’s all playing out in the merciless glare of the media. Logan’s superiors want results, and they want them now.

Someone out there is trying to make a point, and they’re making it in blood. If Logan can’t stop them, it won’t just be his career that dies. 

Stuart MacBride has built a strong crime writing reputation on his adroit blending of gruesome crimes and gallows humour, delving into dark places without dwelling too long without a laugh or two in the pages too. (I've thoroughly enjoyed his books since I came across his first Logan McRae tale, COLD GRANITE, a decade or so ago.)

Sometimes those strong threads of brutality and banter can make it easy to overlook that MacBride has also got a really great touch for memorable characters and fascinating character relationships in his storytelling, and textures his tales with some nice evocation of setting and relevant social issues.

All of that is well on show in his twelfth novel starring Aberdeen detective Logan McRae.

In ALL THAT'S DEAD, McRae is welcomed back to Professional Standards a year after being stabbed with a case that could be a career killer. A right wing ranter has vanished, leaving only bloodstains on his kitchen table. Professor Wilson has plenty of people who don't like him - for his personality as much as his viewpoints - but who would cross over to violence? With rumours circling about lead detective DI King’s youthful ties to violent nationalist groups, a still-recovering McRae has to shadow the tinderbox investigation while tiptoeing through police infighting and waiting for a journalist to toss his unpinned grenade into the mix. Carnage is hovering for all involved.

This is an intense tale that's a terrific page-turner while also addressing how bitter politics and zealotry of any shade can lead to violence when beliefs are glorified beyond human life. MacBride delivers plenty of humour to leaven the dark deeds and weighty issues; McRae’s interactions with colleagues such as DS Steel and DC “Tufty” Quirrel are a particular highlight.

For those who've followed the series from the start, it's smile-inducing to see the ongoing evolution of the McRae-Steel dynamic, from their reversal of police hierarchy to their unusual personal ties.

Overall, ALL THAT'S DEAD is an engrossing read from a master storyteller who is much more than just blood and guts with some laughs.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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