Review: Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride

From Stuart MacBride, the Sunday Times No.1 bestselling author of the Logan McRae series, comes Now We Are Dead—a standalone spinoff featuring DS Roberta Steel (available in hardcover on January 30, 2018).

Am I supposed to like DS Roberta Steel? This being my first exposure to Stuart MacBride, I get the feeling I’m not; she is—as perfectly described by several other characters in this book—a Horror. She scratches herself inappropriately, flirts in a way that borders on harassment, and is constantly shirking her work onto poor Tufty (more on him in a minute). She’s violent and crude and, oh yes, was recently demoted for planting evidence to put a rape suspect, Jack Wallace, in jail. Jack got his conviction overturned and is not only back on the streets but also promising righteous vengeance against the police department that framed him.

To make matters worse, violent rapes keep occurring that Roberta knows are his handiwork. She’s been admonished to stay away from him and focus on the cases she does have, such as the assault of an elderly woman who owed money to a loan shark and is now in the hospital with grievous injuries:

The doctor flipped the page in her notes and kept droning on in a flatline nasal monotone: “… four broken ribs, punctured lung, ruptured spleen, broken ankle, dislocated shoulder…”

So small. So fragile. So broken.

“… fractured cheekbone, detached retina, broken wrist, internal bleeding—”

“She going to be OK?”

The doctor sighed. Scrubbed a hand across her face, tugging the bags beneath her eyes out of shape. “No. Maybe. Someone her age … It’s a lot of trauma. She’d be better off if he’d run her over with a car […] Look, I know I’m not meant to say this, but speaking as a medical professional…” The doctor put a hand on Roberta’s shoulder. “If you catch the bastard who did this, I want you to batter the living crap out of him.”

Roberta would be only too happy to oblige, which bring us to Detective Constable Stewart “Tufty” Quirrel, who—as her hapless young partner—has the unenviable task of trying to curb her worse impulses. Tufty is inexperienced but bright, a gentle soul committed to seeing justice done, with hardly a sophisticated bone in his body. He’s very much the sweet Pooh bear to Steel’s irascible Rabbit.

Oh, did I mention that this book was very much inspired by A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh and the reason Mr. MacBride began to enjoy reading in the first place? Here, we have Tufty in full Pooh-bear mode, trying to chat up a colleague he’s recently met:

PC Mackintosh thumped the [vending] machine again, voice a low bitter mumble: “Give me my goddamned Lion Bar, you thieving hunk of metallic…” She froze. “There’s someone right behind me, isn’t there?”

“Constable Mackintosh. No, I don’t mean Constable Mackintosh is behind you—that would be silly—you’re Constable Mackintosh.” Yeah, this wasn’t going all that well.

She turned and stared at him over the top of her glasses.

He tried for a smile. “But you probably know that.” Tufty’s mouth soldiered on, even though his brain was sounding the retreat. “I mean, it’s your name and everything.” Shut up. “Well, not ‘Constable’, who calls their child ‘Constable’, and how weird would it be if they joined the police?” SHUT UP! “I’m sure you’ve got a perfectly lovely first name. Nice. I meant nice first name. I wasn’t trying to sexually harass you in the workplace or anything…” And finally, at long last, his mouth finally shut. Leaving nothing behind but a high-pitched, “Eek…”

Slick.

It’s this kind of everyday humor that makes Now We Are Dead—a book about brutal rapes and the gritty urban policing of Aberdeen—a total charmer from start to finish. I was completely gaga over Roberta, even if I would likely want to throttle her were we to know each other in real life (how her long-suffering wife puts up with her, I’ll never know). While Roberta is gruff, occasionally mean, and usually wildly unprofessional, she cares deeply for the people of her city, which often leads her to resort to unconventional tactics in her quest for justice. And yes, that occasionally puts her on the wrong side of the law, a dilemma that Mr. MacBride addresses more than adequately in this terrific book.

If you had told me before reading this novel that someone would be able to make a perfect mash-up of tartan noir with children’s classic literature that honored both genres, I would have thought you utterly insane. But Mr. MacBride has done just that—and gained a fan for life (I immediately bought six more of his books after completing this one). I am very much looking forward to reading more of Roberta and Tufty—as well as that Logan MacRae fellow that keeps popping up—in the future.

 

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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