Posted in Book Reviews

Burnout by Claire MacLeary – Sunday Herald

CROSS Purpose, Claire MacLeary’s striking debut novel, introduced Harcus & Laird, an odd couple of middle-aged Aberdonian quines turned private investigators. It was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year. In Burnout, Maggie Laird and Big Wilma Harcus return, rebuilding the private investigations company that Maggie’s late husband ran after his dishonourable dismissal from the police force. Maggie hasn’t given up hope of clearing her husband’s name but in the meantime she has to work as a private investigator to pay the bills that her part-time job at a local school doesn’t cover.

She meets with Sheena Struthers, a well-to-do woman from an affluent area of Aberdeen, who thinks her husband is trying to kill her. Maggie is surprised but sympathetic, seeing a little of herself in Sheena. Wilma, on the other hand, is furious that she has accepted Sheena as a client, the pair having agreed to stay away from domestic cases. ‘Ah’m only tryin to protect you, ya feal quine,’ says Wilma. The most serious disagreement of their fledging partnership threatens both their personal and professional relationships. By showing their differing reactions to Sheena’s problem, Maggie compassionate and Wilma doubting, MacLeary has added depth to both characters. Maggie is also trying to support Ros, a young teacher, whom she befriends during breaks at school. Ros is suffocating in a marriage where her narcissistic husband calls all the shots but she is trying to make it work for the sake of their baby son.

Wilma juggles Harcus & Laird cases with a job as a cleaner at a local hospital. She relishes getting out and about, following up on insurance claims to establish whether they are genuine or fraudulent. This means that Wilma is rarely at home and Ian, her usually easy-going husband, is far from happy. With the growing distance between herself and Maggie, Wilma struggles to cope.

After several meetings during which Sheena provides little evidence for her husband’s alleged murderous tendencies, Maggie tries to point her client towards a doctor. When Sheena is later found unconscious in her own home, Maggie wonders if she has missed a vital clue. She is interviewed by DI Chisolm, formerly a colleague of her late husband, who is investigating Sheena’s case, and also calls on DS Burnett, who has long carried a torch for her, to help with a personal matter.

The Aberdeen setting provides an interestingly tough background and MacLeary doesn’t shy away from using strong language appropriate for her characters. She touches on current social issues, such as violence against women and the discrimination they face, particularly when dealing with public bodies such as the police. Working-class Wilma’s surprising lack of confidence allows MacLeary to explore class, an issue that continues to haunt British society. But she also leavens the tale with some welcome humour, Wilma seeing the funny side of even the most troubling circumstances. Harcus & Laird’s second outing is as absorbing as their first. This is a thoroughly entertaining series that could run and run.

Burnout by Claire MacLeary is published by Contraband, priced £8.99

Posted in Book Reviews

Cross Purpose and Ed’s Dead Reviews, Herald

Review: Cross Purpose, by Claire MacLeary, Contraband, and Ed’s Dead, by Russel D McLean, Contraband

on June 1, 2016 in Aberdeen, Scotland.

on June 1, 2016 in Aberdeen, Scotland.


Cross Purpose

Claire MacLeary

Contraband, £8.99

Ed’s Dead

Russel D McLean

Contraband, £8.99

Review by Shirley Whiteside

TWO middle-aged women may not seem the ideal protagonists for a crime novel but in Claire MacLeary’s debut they offer a refreshingly different approach to the private investigator genre. The setting is respectable suburban Aberdeen and the city’s dank housing estates with their drug dealers and feral children. MacLeary’s double act are not exactly Cagney and Lacey but that is what makes them so interesting. Maggie Laird is the prim widow of a disgraced police officer who eked out a living as a private investigator when he was flung out of the police for corruption. Her next door neighbour, Wilma, is brash and gaudy but she has the street smarts that Maggie lacks. When Maggie discovers she has been left with debts that her part-time job will not cover, Wilma encourages her to take over her late husband’s clients. Maggie agrees but with two conditions. Firstly, Wilma becomes her partner, and secondly that they set out to clear her husband’s name. This odd couple rub along, knocking the edges off each other and discovering as much about themselves as each other. Maggie begins to let her guard down while Wilma shows that she is far more capable than either of them could have imagined. Murder, drug dealing, vicious gangs and dodgy policemen: the women take them all on in their own fashion. MacLeary has created a fast-paced tale with enough sub-plots to sustain the reader’s interest from first to last. Maggie, with her skelly eye, and Wilma with her spray painted leggings, make a formidable duo and there is plenty of scope for MacLeary to continue the adventures of the Aberdonian quines.

Russel D McLean’s seventh novel is set in Glasgow and features Jen Carter, a failed writer who has become a bookseller. McLean knows plenty about Jen’s job, being a former bookseller himself before turning to writing full time. Ed, Jen’s boyfriend, is not the reliable type and has some dubious connections with Glasgow ‘businessmen’. One night Jen accidentally kills Ed and instead of calling the police and explaining, she decides to dispose of Ed’s body. She calls Dave, Ed’s stoner flatmate, and they get rid of the body. They split Ed’s loot; Jen takes his stash of cash while Dave takes custody of the drugs. At first it seems as if they have managed to get away with it but the money and the drugs didn’t actually belong to Ed and their rightful owner wants them back. Jen finds herself being chased by a hitman, gangsters, journalists, and crooked policemen. As the bodies pile up the tabloid press name her The Most Dangerous Woman in Scotland.

There is a lot of violence in this novel, and some of it is brutal, but McLean provides enough characterisation and pitch black humour to stop it sliding into a kill-fest. Solomon Buchan, who rules the city by instilling fear in his employees and victims alike, promises bloody vengeance on anyone who crosses him. Michael, a corrupt cop, is living too close to the edge and making too many mistakes for Buchan’s liking. Dave, Ed’s supposed friend, shows an unlikely entrepreneurial streak that only serves to plunge him further into trouble. The most intriguing character is Jen Carter, who starts off living a normal, anodyne life with a charming but dodgy boyfriend, her dreams being pushed on to the back burner as she sells books instead of writing them. Her instinct to call Dave rather than the police when she kills Ed seems odd, as is her agreement to go along with his rather gory plan. She lies and cheats like a pro and stands up to Buchan when no one else will. Death follows her around like a bad smell but she never seems broken by her losses. Is she really an innocent caught up in other people’s deadly games or does she have hidden depths? It is this dichotomy that makes her so fascinating. McLean has left the door open for Jen to return for another duel with the bad guys.

Contraband, an imprint of Saraband Books dedicated to crime and thriller novels, has already had major success with Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project. These novels will enhance their reputation for publishing gripping Scottish crime novels.

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