Those magic words, "development opportunity". Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae doesn't want to hear them uttered by Aberdeen's senior policeman. But they are, and as a result McRae finds himself back in a uniform and a stabproof vest as a sergeant, patrolling the Banff & Buchan area of northern Aberdeenshire and supervising a motley and very thinly-spread crew of constables.
And so begins "The Missing and the Dead" by Stuart MacBride, one of the most remarkable Scottish crime novels we have read in quite some time, and one we expect to remember for quite some time to come. The uniformed side of policing in Scotland tends to be overlooked in fiction. Survey the shelves of any bookshop or library, and you could be forgiven for thinking that most police in Scotland are detectives, and of inspector rank or better. Stuart MacBride has certainly helped redress the balance, by producing a superbly compelling and gripping novel about uniformed police that drives the reader on from the beginning to the very end.
That these two events are separated by the better part of 600 pages might deter some potential readers. We implore you not to make that mistake: this is a wonderful book that should be read by all fans of Tartan Noir. Most of the action takes place during a single nine day period and the reader is taken on a breathless ride through a chaotic succession of shifts and double shifts as McRae and his colleagues seek to tackle the full range of issues faced by real police out there, from escaped cows to stolen cash machines, taking in drug dealing, domestic violence and, centrally, the finding of the body of an unknown young girl. And all against the backdrop of cases and kudos being poached by teams of detectives from HQ whenever anything really serious arises.
The action proceeds at a relentless tempo, pushed forward by the pulse of a seemingly constant stream of messages received from control over the car radio and by McRae over his personal Airwave radio. Add in the sheer frenetic pace and variety of the action and the result is a deeply immersive experience, like watching a really good fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed with a handheld camera. Not a book to be missed, and one that in our view proves that Stuart MacBride should now be counted amongst the very best of Scottish crime writers.