The image on the cover has the familiar dark theme often found on Tartan Noir, but the skyline shown is altogether more novel. St Andrews, as seen from its harbour? It is indeed. "Blood Torment" by T.F. Muir is the latest in the author's series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist of Fife Constabulary and his bag-carrier, Detective Sergeant Jessie Janes. It's the first of the series we've read, so we opened the book with high hopes of characters we'd not encountered before and a setting which has rarely featured in contemporary Scottish crime novels. It's a pleasure to be able to say that we were not disappointed: just as it was a pleasure to read this compelling and intriguing mystery in which nothing is ever quite what it seems.
DCI Andy Gilchrist is an enjoyable protagonist. He ticks many of the boxes we've come to expect. He knows he's reached his ceiling in terms of rank, and he knows that his unorthodox methods are only tolerated by his bosses so long as he achieves results; and that even then that he'd be kicked out if anyone ever found out just how close to (or how far beyond) the line of illegality he sometimes sails. His domestic life would probably deserve an "It's Complicated" on Facebook, and he has a habit of trusting his instinct, which sometimes works well, but can also land him in trouble. Meanwhile DS Janes is the perfect foil, with an approach to the world that might best be described as "spiky".
Andy and Jesse are called out to the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl from her mother's house on the edge of St Andrews. The mother's attitude and responses to questions raise their suspicions, but then another possibility arises when the police discover that a known paedophile, recently released from prison, has moved into the same area. The missing child's grandfather is a high profile businessman with powerful contacts and a strong instinct for self-publicity, and her grandmother is a personal friend of the Chief Constable. The pressure inevitably mounts on the investigation as all their leads seem to take them into dead ends, and Andy knows that with every passing hour their chances of finding the child alive are diminishing.
So, some memorable and likeable characters deployed in a fresh setting in pursuit of a beautifully constructed plot. What's not to like? This is a book we'd highly recommend to all lovers of well-constructed whodunits. It's a small point, but if, as appears to be the case, the novel is intended to be set in the present day, then the existence of a Fife Constabulary is a little anachronistic. It was one of the police forces that merged to become Police Scotland on 1 April 2013, and its continued presence here does seem odd.