This is a new police procedural from Stuart MacBride (left) and it introduces Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh. Her beat is the fictional town of Oldcastle (not to be confused with the actual city of Oldcastle, which lies between Aberdeen and Dundee). Aberdeen, of course, is where DS Logan McRae operated in the hugely successful earlier series from MacBride. Also, DS McVeigh comes across – to me at any rate – as a younger version of McRae’s boss, the foul-mouthed and acerbic DCI Roberta Steel. McVeigh is equally sharp tempered, and similarly indisposed to suffer fools gladly.
Early on, we are aware that McVeigh has been involved a high profile incident where she killed a man – Neil Black – in the line of duty. This requires her to suffer – by order of her bosses – psychological treatment and counselling. Like the good storyteller that he is, MacBride doesn’t let us know the nature of the incident right away, thus keeping us guessing for a while. When we do learn what happened, over seven terrifying pages, it is horrific stuff.
McVeigh is involved in the hunt for a serial killer nicknamed The Bloodsmith. He – or she – eviscerates victims and scrawls “Help Me’ on the wall of the murder scene, using the blood of the unfortunate prey. The trail is cold, but when a new victim emerges McVeigh and her ‘gofer’ Detective Constable Fraser (aka The Dunk) have some fresh clues to work with. It turns out that the latest corpse is the remains of a former police officer who did time for petty theft, and then ended up as a vagrant on the streets.
Women are supposed to multi-task better than men, but Lucy McVeigh has two other problems. Firstly, she is being harassed by the family of the man she killed. They are determined to end her career by fair means or foul, and the press are lapping up every minute of the feud. Secondly, a case from the past surfaces. Years earlier, McVeigh was involved in putting behind bars an eleven year-old boy who, along with another boy as yet unidentified, committed a terrible murder. Now a young man, Benedict Strachan is back – literally – on the streets, using an alias, misusing drugs, living rough, and he is convinced that someone is trying to kill him.
As the search for The Bloodsmith continues, and Lucy McVeigh struggles to keep abreast of that investigation, as well as her battle with the Black family and coping with the mental agonies of Benedict Strachan, MacBride treats us to his signature mixture of Noir, visceral horror and bleak humour. Even though his Oldcastle is a fictional place, it is vividly brought to life to the extent that I would not be in the least surprised if the author has a map of the place hanging on the wall of his writing room. The situation becomes ever more complex for Lucy McVeigh when she learns there is a connection between the murdered former policeman and Benedict Strachan. That connection is a prestigious and exclusive independent school, known colloquially as St Nicks’s. When she visits the school, she unearths more questions than answers.
Novels that use the name of the Devil in their title are making a statement that the writer has to live up to. No-one did it better than the great Derek Raymond in his 1984 The Devil’s Home On Leave, but what about this book? I won’t over-egg the pudding and say that it’s an existential treatise on the nature of evil. It’s just a crime novel, albeit a very superior one. Suffice it to say that Stuart MacBride takes us to some very dark places, and convinces us that the Devil is real, if only in the sense that he lives in the hearts and souls of certain human beings.
No Less The Devil will be published by Bantam Press on 28th April. As a postscript, I have to say that I found the last hundred or so pages seriously strange, and it took me all the way back to the 1990s and my weekly (and increasingly puzzled) visits to Twin Peaks. Without any further spoilers, I will simply say that I think I know what happens, but I aIso believe readers will be divided over the plot swerve. I would be interested to hear from other people what they made of it.