Simon & Schuster (www.simonandschuster.co.uk)
There is, it would seem, an unwritten rule for writers of cop-centric series that states that at some point the cop must become involved in an off-the-books investigation. Craig Robertson’s third novel, Cold Grave, sees the return of series characters Rachel Narey and Tony Winter, and drops them into the middle of a cold case that they have no business investigating.
1993 – Detective Inspector Alan Narey’s last case involves the brutal murder of a young woman on a small island in the middle of Scotland’s only lake. Not only is Narey unable to find the murderer, but he retires never even having discovered the identity of the murdered girl. Nineteen years later, Alan Narey is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. His daughter, Detective Sergeant Rachel Narey, hoping to relieve his burden before it is too late, decides to reopen the case. When her father’s only suspect dies shortly afterwards in suspicious circumstances, and the body count starts to rise, Narey and police photographer Tony Winter discover themselves working to a much more imminent deadline than the one imposed by Alan Narey’s failing mental faculties.
Craig Robertson’s third novel marks a welcome return for Narey and Winter. This time around, the narrative is more evenly split between the two central characters, and we start to see a much more likeable side to Winter – he gets less time to air his grievances this time around (though he does still manage a fair amount of whinging), and we are allowed deeper insight into his odd fixation with photographing the dead. Narey, we find, is a much more vulnerable character, and her increasingly difficult relationship with her father – a man who may or may not remember who she is at any given point in time – forms the core of her sections of the novel. Alan Narey’s rapid decline is heart-breaking to watch, and Robertson does an excellent job tugging at the reader’s heartstrings; it’s unexpected beauty in the midst of this dark and gritty thriller.
Once again, Robertson manages to nail Glasgow and its people to the page. We’re introduced to the seedier side of the city – a side that the tourist board will most likely not thank Robertson for highlighting – through a series of dark and dingy pubs and restaurants and a cast of hard men and assorted reprobates. Dialogue is written in a way that makes it easy for the reader to hear the thick accent in which the words are spoken, and once again littered with local words and phrases (don’t worry: more often than not make perfect sense in the context in which they are uttered). Football shines through as an important element of these peoples’ lives – the bars are often Celtic bars or Rangers bars, and the people themselves often divide along the same lines. It’s obvious, though, that the game and the teams are the external face of a much deeper rift along political and religious lines and we see a city – if not a country – simmering with barely-repressed rage and contempt.
The central plot – the nineteen-year-old murder of the young girl – is cleverly constructed and a frozen lake on the verge of thaw provides the enabler for the perfect crime.
Just twenty minutes later, he was walking back across the ice on his own, every step washing away behind him, every footprint slipping softly into the lake. The crunch of foot on snow and the glide of boot on the icy bridge to neverland disappeared without trace. All he and she had ever been were ghosts and every sign of them had become lost in the blue.
Misdirection and judicious use of point-of-view combine to keep the reader guessing to the end. The gritty feel of Snapshot is present, but tempered with a cold so deep and bitter as to be almost Scandinavian, and the humour is as black and expletive-filled as ever, introducing some much-needed levity at points throughout the story’s progress.
Cold Grave comes with a much more human side than its predecessor, in the relationships between Rachel Narey and her father, and between the protagonists and the unidentified dead girl. Even so, it maintains the dark and darkly-comic style that made Snapshot so appealing. Robertson, keenly observant and with a well-tuned ear, takes us on a tour of a rarely-seen side of Glasgow in the company of characters who, while not always likeable, are nonetheless easy to spend time with. Cold Grave is another excellent novel from a man quickly becoming one of the best crime writers in Scotland, if not Britain.