This month for my crime tour of Scotland it’s home territory, and Aberdeen. And Aberdeen crime, for the last fifteen years or so, has meant Stuart McBride.
I first met Stuart McBride when he was still in a state of excitement at having his first book out. In a moment of enthusiasm, he agreed to take a workshop at Aberdeen Central Library on plotting a crime novel (he favours mind maps). Poor man, he was not expecting to have in his audience someone who had been trying unsuccessfully for years to be published, and was in a bit of a mental pit over the whole thing.
‘How many people here have written a book?’
Several put up their hands.
The hands mostly dropped.
‘Well, the best thing you can do is write a second book. How many have written a second book?’
Just my hand, then.
‘There, you stand a much better chance with a second book! Now, are you published?’
‘But you’ve written a second book?’
‘Hm. Maybe better try a third?’
‘I’ve written seven.’
But he was a very funny man, and the evening (despite me) was very enjoyable, as the many, many people who have now heard him speak will know.
The Aberdeen he portrays is realistic, hard and noir (there are, honestly, very good, attractive, cultural, welcoming aspects to Aberdeen too and I’ve grown to be very fond of it over the years, they just don’t often feature in McBride’s novels!). It is also very funny, which draws me back again and again even when I think the books are just a touch too noir (when you find yourself avoiding the bins in a street in Rosemount because that’s where they found the first body you know the book’s got into your head a little too much). The somewhat hapless Logan McRae and his dreadful boss, D.I. Steele, are just irresistible. He has undoubtedly put Aberdeen on the crime fiction map, which is, for some inexplicable reason, just where towns like to be these days. We’re not quite at the stage of Laz McRae Tours yet, gazing adoringly into the café on the beach where Stuart used, at least, to do most of his writing, or visiting the strange little static caravan park by the Don where McRae found a dead body on his roof. No doubt it will come.
There are a couple of other local crime writers (there are probably more in the woodwork of whom I as yet know little): Shona McLean (S.J. McLean) is one to whom I’ll return as she doesn’t restrict herself to Aberdeen. Claire MacLeary’s Cross Purpose came out a couple of years ago and she has a new one, too, featuring her mismatched pair of women detectives. I read Cross Purpose but I wasn’t quite sure what this book was trying to be – a comedy? A noir crime novel? Something a bit more titillating? A buddy movie? Whatever it was, the pieces did not sit easily together for me, and the pacing was odd: sometimes apparently quite quick, sometimes it seemed weeks had gone by with all kinds of irrelevant action referred to in passing. There was a body at one point but what had happened to it was just a bit peculiar and not wholly convincing. The plot seemed to be solved half by accident and half with a sort of resignation, and beyond one of the main characters the others seemed a little flat. And it could have been set, really, in any largish city. Still, I finished it. I might read the second one. But I fear she has a long way to go before she is much competition for Stuart McBride.