"Cross Purpose" by Claire MacLeary represents a delightfully novel approach to Tartan Noir. Readers can be forgiven for sometimes wondering whether, ultimately, there are only so many crime novels that can ever be set in Scotland. Ours is not a large country, and with only seven cities to go at, plus occasional forays into rural settings, the choice of location is not large. Yes, the permutations increase significantly when variations in protagonist are taken into account. We've had male and female detectives, both senior and junior; we've had private detectives; we've had journalists and private individuals; and ex-police officers, again both senior and not-so-senior. You might think we've had just about every possible starting point, so how does a new author coming into this environment carve out a distinctive niche for themself?
Claire MacLeary has succeeded beautifully in giving "Cross Purpose" a very different feel, while still ensuring it remains firmly under the "Tartan Noir" banner. She does this by coming up with two central characters who are very different to anyone we've seen before; who she draws so beautifully we end up caring about and completely empathising with; and whose forays into the seamier side of life in Aberdeen are as convincing as they are unlikely.
Maggie Laird's husband has dropped dead unexpectedly at work. He used to be a policeman, but having been disgraced - unfairly in Maggie's eyes - is working as a private investigator. Maggie has a part time job, but suddenly finds she needs to make ends meet in the face of debts she didn't know existed. She also wants to prove to the world that her dead husband was innocent of the charges that led to him leaving the police. Enter Maggie's neighbour Wilma: slightly rough-round-the-edges, but with a heart of gold and a way with people that gets things done. Together they try to make a go of the struggling investigation business Maggie has inherited, learning from scratch and the Internet as they go. Then, by chance, Maggie finds herself caught up in a police investigation into drug dealing on an Aberdeen estate, and another into the suspicious death of a student in the churchyard of St Machar's Cathedral. This brings her into conflict with policemen she needs to help her clear her husband's name, and life begins to become extremely complicated.
A thoroughly enjoyable book, and a highly commendable (and recommendable) first-time novel.