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The phrase "jack of all trades and master of none" can apply to writers as well as anything else and I've always been suspicious of authors who switch genres, as they often prove less effective when they do so. Sometimes, however, it does work and having enjoyed Brian Ruckley's fantasy writings such as ''Fall of Thanes'', I found that he's equally as enjoyable when writing a crime thriller.
In 1820's Edinburgh, a man is found dead, apparently the victim of an animal attack. The trail leads Sergeant Adam Quire to a John Ruthven, who Quire quickly realises is lying to him about what he knows. Quire's suspicions are further confirmed when his superiors warn him away from digging too deeply into Ruthven and when he himself is attacked by a pack of dogs that appear to have been dead for some time. Quire links this to the recent spate of grave thefts that are providing subjects for the medical experiments and demonstrations being carried out in Edinburgh at that time.
Whilst the story is well done, it's the writing of the novel that really caught my attention. This is a beautifully paced novel, in a way that somehow matches the time period it is set in. It's a slower pace of life and this is wonderfully reflected in the relatively gentle pacing of the story. For those more used to modern crime thrillers where things are solved with a machine gun, it may seem a little slow, but what the pacing felt like to me here was completely authentic. Whilst characters may hurry from place to place, there is no sense of urgency and rushing around and it makes for an almost relaxing read, despite the gruesomeness of the contents.
The language used is perfect as well and helps with the pacing. The language here is well considered and again fits the time frame of the novel as well as the pacing of the story. All of the characters seem to consider their words and there are very few rash outbursts and none of the foul language that often appears in modern thrillers.
Ruckley's great writing extends to his characters. Adam Quire is an ideal hero - his determination makes you admire him yet his tragic past gives you room to sympathise for him. When he's badly treated you feel sorry for him, but you can't help but cheer him on. He may make mistakes, but his motives are pure and whilst his superiors may not like him, the reader does. In many ways, he reminds me of Ian Rankin's Rebus, determined to get the right outcome for his conscience rather than obeying the rules. Ruckley also writes Ruthven and Blegg as entirely unsympathetic characters, drawing a clear line between good and bad and helping the reader be even more considerate towards Quire.
What we end up with here is the ideal thriller for its setting. It may seem a little slow of pace for those used to modern crime novels, but for those who enjoy something with a little more meat to it, this is the perfect read. Every part of it works together wonderfully and whilst the concept of Rebus meets Frankenstein isn't terribly realistic, somehow it still feels quite believable. As good as I found Ruckley's fantasy writings, his crime writing is even better, especially when it can be found on the Amazon Marketplace from as little as £2.98. A master of all trades indeed.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk