"Payback" by Claire MacLeary sees the return of Harcus & Laird, two feisty ladies of a certain age, who run a private investigation business in Aberdeen. Wilma is slightly larger than life, brimming with confidence. She sees herself as invincible and is keen to take risks, unfortunately too often at partner Maggie's expense. Maggie feels the weight of the world right now. She is a widow with two teenage kids to support and every penny counts. With a daughter at university and her son moving into his sixth year of private education, it's all about balancing the books and taking whatever work comes their way.
Queen Street Divisional Police Headquarters is home to DI Allan Chisholm and his team. They are under pressure and under staffed. Mundane police work is demanding and dispiriting, so the call to investigate the missing property of a whole host of Aberdeen’s weird and wonderful residents is hardly likely to get them overly motivated. But then along comes a murder. Annabel Imray is a colourful character. Young and attractive, she is a well known among the local business community and is frequently photographed at high profile events. So when she's found dead in her apartment with few clues to who might have wanted to kill her, it's Chisholm and his team who are charged with solving the crime.
Meantime, with fraud jobs and insurance claims providing their bread and butter income, Maggie seeks out more interesting work for her and Wilma. But the best she can come up with is to take the case of Dr Ursula Evershed's missing cat. Malthus is used to roaming and is well known in his part of town. But he always comes home, so the fact that he went out one day and didn't return has left his owner both bemused and distraught. Having reported Malthus missing to the police, she feels let down by their inaction and is prepared to pay good money to Harcus & Laird if they can find and return her much loved companion. Which is why Maggie and Wilma end up pounding the streets of Aberdeen looking for a missing cat.
The two main storylines in "Payback" are woven nicely together and the pace of the novel keeps the reader turning the page. The characterisation is strong. Wilma and Maggie both become more rounded people in this book and we learn much more about their individual personalities. Maggie, in particular, is struggling to find herself. She is still relatively young, but widowhood seems to have aged her before her time. She wants to do the best for her family but is also eager to break free from the drudgery of daily life. And one thing is for sure, she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life alone. "Payback" fits its setting well and those who know the city of Aberdeen and surrounding area will find its portrayal realistic. There is less direct interaction between the PIs and the police team at Divisional HQ than in Claire MacLeary’s previous outings for Harcus & Laird, but this does not detract from either the flow of the book or its conclusion. What does emerge is that this is unlikely to be the last we will see of them all.