We were very impressed by Michael J Malone's 2012 debut crime novel, "Blood Tears", which introduced the highly dysfunctional protagonist (even by the standards of the genre) Detective Inspector Ray McBain. So we approached "A Taste for Malice" with some trepidation: would Michael J Malone be able to produce a second novel that lived up to the promise of the first?
The answer is a clear "yes": he has. He has also produced one of the more unusual detective novels we can remember reading. Most crime novels kick off with a dead body within the first few pages, and build from there. What is particularly fascinating about "A Taste for Malice" is that the story does not revolve around the tracking down of a killer or serial killer. Yes, there is a murder between the covers, but it's very much "off stage", and DI McBain's involvement is only peripheral (though it is also critical). But the central story, which develops in two parallel strands that steadily converge as the book moves towards its climax, deals with something altogether less wholesome.
We first encounter DI Ray McBain as he returns to work after the events in the earlier novel. The physical scars he has been left with are healing, but the mental scars still run very deep. McBain has other problems. His superiors do not wish to risk his fragile mental health by exposing him to the full rigors of the work of a Detective Inspector, so he is attached to a team led by a man who used to be his junior officer, and tasked with administrative tasks that have little interest and no challenge for him. One of the files he looks at deals with the harming of two children by a woman the family thought could be trusted to look after them. Then another similar case emerges. McBain sets out to discover whether the two cases are linked, behind the backs and against the wishes of his senior officers. Meanwhile his personal life is as chaotic as ever, and he also begins to fear that his nemesis from "Blood Tears" may be waiting in the shadows.
In parallel we follow the story of a family having difficulty coping with the mother's loss of memory in an accident, and their befriending by a young woman. The reader's suspicions that all is not right build steadily, and the two strands of the story come together very satisfyingly in a conclusion that offers some genuine surprises.