Fans of Stuart MacBride's well established series of gritty crime novels featuring Aberdeen-based Detective Sergeant Logan McRae will find themselves instantly at home when reading Birthdays For the Dead. Compelling, fast paced, violent, and with a grimly dark tone enlivened by splashes of humour and some fascinating characters, many of the elements we have come to expect from MacBride remain present, albeit with a new protagonist and in a different setting. The result is a thoroughly entertaining read that keeps you turning the page as you follow the central characters through a series of well concealed and highly convincing twists and turns as the story reaches its bloody climax.
MacBride's new protagonist is Detective Constable Ash Henderson, a man who colleagues strangely refer to as "Guv" for reasons that only become clear as the story progresses. DC Henderson serves on the Oldcastle police force. The use of the fictional Oldcastle, a city a little like Stirling, but located between Dundee and Aberdeen on the A90, is the only thing that distracts from instant immersion in the unfolding plot: but the reader soon stops trying to locate it on a mental map as the body count starts to mount.
And it is already quite a body count when we are first introduced to Ash Henderson. For over a decade a killer known to the tabloids as "The Birthday Boy" has been abducting and killing girls just before their thirteenth birthday, then sending photos of them to their parents each birthday for years afterwards. Ash has a secret. His own daughter became a victim five years previously, but he hasn't told anyone, even his (now ex-)wife for fear it would lead to his being taken off the case: and he very badly wants to be there when "The Birthday Boy" is caught. The arrival on the team of a new criminal psychologist, the latest in series with personality issues that are the equal of many of the criminals they are trying to help catch, coincides with the discovery of the body of one of the missing girls, which leads to more being found. The case may finally be breaking open, but with time running out for Ash before his secret is out, will he be able to see it through?