The army of fans of Quintin Jardine's "Bob Skinner" novels will need no second invitation to go out and buy the 24th book in the series, "Hour of Darkness". And they won't be disappointed with what they find between the covers. The best Skinner yet? It certainly feels like it as you come, with regret, to the end of this beautifully plotted and utterly captivating read.
Over more than two decades we have watched the Skinner phenomenon evolve and grow. Detective Chief Superintendent Bob Skinner has risen to become Chief Constable, first of the author's fictional equivalent of Lothian and Borders Police, and now of Strathclyde Police: and he looks to be a shoe-in to become Chief Constable of the planned single police force for Scotland (police reorganisation is some 18 months behind reality in Bob Skinners' Scotland).
When the mutilated body of a woman is washed up on Cramond Island in the River Forth, it at first looks to be a routine, if rather grisly, murder enquiry. But when an obvious crime scene is uncovered in an Edinburgh flat, and the female occupant is found to be missing, detectives soon find that two plus two can sometimes equal four. The identity of the woman throws up links to crime families now all but vanished from the scene in Edinburgh, largely thanks to the past efforts of Bob Skinner and his colleagues, faithfully recorded in earlier books in the series. A second, distinct, storyline is nicely interwoven with the first, and we follow many of the characters so familiar from earlier books in the series as they try to uncover a motive and a murderer when most of those who might have wanted the woman dead have themselves long since been killed or locked up. And all the while there is the growing sense that Bob Skinner's own past, and perhaps his future, are intimately involved in the story of the body on the island.
Quintin Jardine's style has itself evolved over the years, and his books now read the way the very best singers sound. Think of a singer who can produce a song in perfect pitch and with perfect timing, and without any obvious strain or effort. You stop thinking about the process of singing, and simply enjoy the experience of listening to the song. Where does Bob Skinner go from here? We don't know, but we hope we don't have to wait too long to find out...