"The End of the Line" by Gillian Galbraith is one of those books that defies easy categorisation. At a stretch it's a crime novel, but with a difference. It's certainly a detective novel, though with a protagonist quite unlike any detective you are likely to have encountered before. All this is good. It's fun to be taken on a ride whose very nature is as artfully veiled as its destination. This is a book that stands out from the crowd for all the right reasons. It's a book that makes you think, a book that causes you to re-examine easy assumptions and preconceived ideas. It's certainly a book that we would strongly recommend.
The book's central character is dead before we meet him. The body of ninety-year-old Professor Sir Alexander Anstruther is found in his bed in a chilly Edinburgh mansion. A post-mortem examination reveals that he did not die of natural causes. But what was the chain of events that led to his death and were the conclusions drawn in its aftermath the right ones?
Enter Anthony Sparrow, a seventy-six-year-old bibliophile whose business is in preparing houses for estate sales. He is asked to clear out the professor's papers and what he unearths raises as many questions as it provides answers. The story that we are drawn into is told from multiple perspectives. The main voices we hear are those of Anthony Sparrow and of the professor, courtesy of his journal. Others are called upon to tell their stories, especially later in the book. The result is a patchwork of perspectives, a picture that builds towards a fascinating whole as the truth slowly begins to emerge: or does it?
The book is set against the background of all-too-real events. The professor was once a leading haematologist, and he was deeply implicated in the decades-old scandal of HIV-contaminated blood being given to haemophiliac patents, many of whom died as a consequence. At the time of his death he was a key witness giving evidence to the inquiry into the scandal in Scotland, a process that both scared and confused him as his wits and his memory faded with age. He had become a public figure of hate: did someone take revenge on behalf of those who suffered as a result of decisions he took? Or were the motives for his death more ordinary?
As we read this book we found ourselves caught up in a story that is remarkably compelling. The multiple viewpoints, sometimes of the same events, really add to the sense that you as the reader are the detective, sifting through the evidence. The background of the contaminated blood scandal is ever-present and presented in a way that feels utterly convincing. It was no surprise to read, after we'd finished the book, that its author was an advocate specialising in medical negligence who was deeply involved in the Scottish public inquiry into blood contamination, whose fictional counterpart the professor was testifying before at the time of his death.