Dead Wood by Chris Longmuir

(Dundee International Book Prize Winner 2009)

Published by Polygon.

As an extra treat at last year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, I bought a ticket to their ‘Come Dine With Me’ Murder Mystery Dinner, which promised each table hosted by a published crime author.

This year a similar event is being held under the title: Criminal Consequences.

I was very pleased to find I was part of Caro Ramsay’s sleuthing dinner team, but was also very pleased to find that on the same table was one of the CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted authors, Kathleen Stewart, and sitting right next to me another published author and winner of last year’s Dundee International Book Prize, Chris Longmuir.

As is the case throughout the festival, you never quite know who you’ve started a conversation with (whether an author, fan, blogger, agent or publisher) until someway into the chat. Once I’d discovered that Chris had her book out there, DEAD WOOD, and she found out I was starting to review more on my blog after the festival, she kindly offered to send me a copy.

When it arrived, I was also pleased to see that DEAD WOOD is published by Polygon – the same publisher from whom my previous reviews of Allan Guthrie’s Slammer came – so I already had a fairly good idea that this was going to be a great read.

It was – and a surprising one too. Despite the title, I knew nothing of Chris’s book until it arrived on the doormat and, if I’m honest, I was slightly shocked at tone and subject and language that this mild mannered lovely lady lets loose with on the page (it’s clear that she is in good company with Mr Guthrie).

Chris writes great female characters, victims and cops, but she also writes great villains, dealers, pimps and killers, and her scenes of crime, post mortems and conflicts are all handled very well.

The characters are well-rounded and several could easily be seen to transfer into a possible series should she choose to. And talking of series, I always like cheeky references to other authors to make their characters fictional in the ‘real’ world of a new author’s book, so the reference to a character reading the latest Ian Rankin Rebus book was a nice touch.

The tale itself is set in Dundee amongst the world of prostitution and drugs and a serial killer who is leaving his victims in Templeton Woods, believing them to be required as sacrifices to the trees there. The two crime worlds collide when young mother and prostitute Kara heads out to make money to pay a local gangster, Tony, back a debt owed to him and she finds herself in the woods with the killer’s victims – one of whom is Tony’s own daughter.

The Police investigation is headed up by newcomer to the area, Louise Walker and her team, and their search for the killer and involvement with Kara’s children who are taken into care is all handled with care and skill right through to the closing pages.

My favourite scene in the whole book has to be where a character has spotted the killer within a room and runs screaming away – but it’s a room full of all the possible suspects, leaving the Police and the reader scratching heads as to which one of them it may have been.

An excellent police procedural but a lot more besides – I really hope it’s not long before the next book comes along from Chris. I would certainly buy a copy and would highly recommend DEAD WOOD.

Keith

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