Book name: Dead Man’s Grave
Author: Neil Lancaster
Publisher: HQ Digital
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date: 2021
Star Rating: 5/5
I’m not always in the mood for a full-on police procedural, but when I am I enjoy them immeasurably more when all the technical detail is done right.
Thankfully, Neil Lancaster is a former military policeman and detective for the Met, investigating serious crimes.
This previous professional experience shines through every page of Dead Man’s Grave, which is the first book in the DS Max Craigie series.
When the story opens, a Scottish gangland patriarch has gone missing and the Hardies are sufficiently desperate to find him that they actually call the police.
Given that old man Hardie’s calling card was to strip flesh from his victims, that is saying something.
DS Max Craigie has recently moved up from London. He and DC Janie Calder are sent up to the far north-east coast of Scotland to find Hardie senior.
The last recorded use of the missing man’s mobile phone took place in the village of Latheron, up near Wick, two days earlier.
Max and Janie find the bloated and already decaying body of the missing man inside an ancient grave topped with a granite slab.
The slab is engraved with a message dating from plague and cholera pandemics saying that it must never be opened.
Despite this gruesome warning, Max and Janie shift the slab enough to see that the body is inside.
The Hardie family spurn offers of family liaison and nominally step aside for the police investigation. However, everyone suspects that they intend to find the killers themselves.
Soon, residents of the village start dying and all of them are connected to a family that had a blood feud with the Hardies back in the 1800s.
Max and Janie soon become alarmed at the lack of interest in the case being shown by senior officers.
They conclude that the Hardies have bent coppers on retainer and are ensuring that the investigation stalls.
The procedural detail in Dead Man’s Grave was excellent. The story was told by an author who knew the area inside out and I really loved that about the book.
Max and Janie were carefully crafted characters. There was plenty of homelife background, but it never interfered with the crime investigation plot strand.
The plot was credible but at the same time it was tricky to guess which officers were bent and which were honest, besides Max and Janie of course who provided the book’s moral compass.
This gave the story tension and direction right up to the end. The extent of infiltration was never overdone, and the action spun down to London as the crimes escalated before coming back to the Highlands for a final resolution.
I loved Dead Man’s Grave and can’t wait to read the next story in the series.
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