‘Dead Man’s Grave’ by Neil Lancaster
For those keen to know more about Neil Lancaster and Dead Man’s Grave, Neil kindly agreed to speak to me about his writing routine and this latest book. You can find the interview here:
This grave can never be opened.
The head of Scotland’s most powerful crime family is brutally murdered, his body dumped inside an ancient grave in a remote cemetery.
This murder can never be forgotten.
Detectives Max Craigie and Janie Calder arrive at the scene, a small town where everyone has secrets to hide. They soon realise this murder is part of a blood feud between two Scottish families that stretches back to the 1800s. One thing’s for certain: it might be the latest killing, but it won’t be the last…
This killer can never be caught.
As the body count rises, the investigation uncovers large-scale corruption at the heart of the Scottish Police Service. Now Max and Janie must turn against their closest colleagues – to solve a case that could cost them far more than just their lives… (Synopsis courtesy of https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/dead-mans-grave-ds-max-craigie-scottish-crime-thrillers-book-1-neil-lancaster?variant=39314373050446)
‘“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore, it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell,”’ she said, dryly, as she got out of the car.
‘Sorry?’ said Max.
‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you know, Sherlock Holmes. That’s from The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Have you read it?’
‘I only read books with exploding helicopters on the front cover,’ said Max, shaking his head.”
One of the best compliments I can pay Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster is that I’m fairly certain that lead detective Max Craigie would not enjoy it. No exploding helicopters, far too little of the Rambo on the run which people might expect from this genre.
Lancaster has made a name for himself as a writer of kick ass thrillers with fast paced plotting and bone crunching action. And his biography does suggest that, more than most writers, he has the experience to back this up.
Armed Forces background, surveillance and undercover work for the Met and now successful thriller writer based in the Highlands. His debut novel featuring, ‘Going Dark’ was part of a trilogy featuring Tom Novak, a man who seemed in capable of not being chased by various Eastern European mafia hoods and corrupt law enforcement officers.
This time out we have Max Craigie, a former soldier struggling with PTSD and recently moved from London to Scotland under a cloud with a fatal shooting on his record.
When a prominent gangster disappears near a creepily titled grave in the Badlands of Caithness, it isn’t long before Craigie and other outsider from the squad, Janie, is sent to get involved.
Lancaster manages to twirl this plot on a sixpence with no warning for the reader and this is a really attractive trait for the reader. Expectations are dashed at every turn and, for readers who have enjoyed the Tom Novak series, whilst there are similarities between Craigie and Novak – both military men, both are or have worked in the Met, both have ties to Scotland – here the character of Craigie is more cerebral, more open to human relationships and more easily likeable than the sociopathic here of the ‘Going…’ series.
The other aspect of this new series of novels which demonstrate the evolution of Lancaster as a master craftsman is the humour. Whilst plot is clearly where this author lives, funny interchanges between Craigie, Janie and their foul mouthed but essentially cheery boss, Ross, are handled with aplomb.
“‘What’s your instinct on this one?’ Ross asked.
‘No, I want you to bloody lie to me, you daft twat. Stop pissing about.’”
For my money, this is the funniest novel in terms of character relationships outside another crime writer with a Black Isle connection, Ian Rankin.
And, it would appear that I am not alone in my appreciation of the novel. While I was halfway through my advanced copy, it was announced that Dead Man’s Grave had been long listed for the coveted McIlvanney Prize from Bloody Scotland. This puts Lancaster alongside luminaries such as Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart MacBride and Denise Mina which is the right company for any crime writer, I’d have thought!
My only complaint on that score is that I’ve been a reader for that award since the inaugural year and I rarely get a novel as good as this.
In conclusion, Dead Man’s Grave is a fine introduction to a series and packed with plot twists, enjoyable characters and the verisimilitude of the author’s experience make this a fine addition to the Tartan Noir canon.
Neil Lancaster joined the RAF in 1983 and served as a Military Policeman for six years, in the UK, Germany, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands, mostly as a patrol dog handler.
In 1990 he joined the Metropolitan Police where he worked in a number of roles as a Detective investigating the most serious of crimes in the capital and beyond. He was a covert policing specialist using all sorts of tactics to obtain evidence against murderers, human traffickers, drug dealers and fraudsters.
Since leaving the Met in 2015 he has lived in the Scottish Highlands where he now writes crime and thriller novels alongside work as a broadcaster and commentator on true crime documentaries. (Biography courtesy of www.neillancastercrime.co.uk)