"Artefacts of the Dead" is Tony Black's latest venture into Tartan Noir: and deeply noir it is too. Detective Inspector Bob Valentine has been seconded, against his will, to train new recruits at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan Castle in Fife. He has not long returned to duty after recovering, partially at least, from being stabbed through the heart when attempting to arrest a man: an incident which resulted in him needing 50 pints of blood and going close to, if not beyond, the edge of death.
Bob Valentine longs to be able to return to what he sees as real police work, though at the same time he worries about his physical and mental ability to cope. Then he gets a call from his boss, Chief Superintendent Marion Martin, the woman who Bob feels exiled him to Tulliallan. The discovery of a murdered banker, impaled on a wooden spike on a rubbish tip in Ayr, means she needs him back. Though, as she makes clear, only because all her other options are on leave or tied up on other cases.
So Bob finds himself back in Ayr trying to find out who killed the banker before his boss's limited patience with him expires: and before his wife gives up on him as a husband. And then it becomes clear that there is a serial killer at work.
The result is a thoroughly enjoyable read that keeps you guessing right to the end. We've previously reviewed Tony Black's two "Doug Michie" novels, set in Ayr, and found "Artefacts of the Dead" to be very different in style. Gone is the sparseness of those two earlier books, to be replaced by a much meatier approach that fills in the background in a very satisfying way. Also new is an interesting supernatural element, perhaps brought on by Bob Valentine's brush with death. The one constant factor is the character of the setting, the town of Ayr, which Tony Black consistently portrays in a way that must have those responsible for tourist promotion in the town holding their heads in their hands. We don't remember Ayr really being this grim, but then we've only visited to take photographs and not had to live there.