Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Murderabilia is the latest in Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based Narey and Winter novels. Narey is a Detective Inspector while her husband, Tony Winter has left the force and is now a newspaper photographer. Winter may not have Weegee’s ability to know when a crime is occurring but he still has enough contacts to get him over the police tape; sometimes, and get the front page picture that will sell papers.
Aiden McAlpine’s body, hung from a tree above a commuter railway line, makes such a picture – it could have been put there to make a scene. In fact, even DCI Crosbie – who is not the most appreciative of a well-laid out tableau – recognizes that, though the influence of Aiden’s MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) father will quickly mean that he downplays it. This inability to look at a picture is regrettable, too, for Crosbie because looking at the picture of the naked corpse hanging above its neatly piled clothes is what gives Winter his first hint that things are not as they should be. Some of the clothes are missing.
DI Rachel Narey knows that things are not going as they should, even so early in the investigation, and at the first press briefing she begins to protest only to find her senses giving way. Doctors quickly tell her and her husband as well as her superiors why – she is pregnant and at risk, so she must do nothing but rest.
Readers of Craig Robertson’s early Narey and Winter books such as In Place Of Death will know that Narey cannot leave things alone – even from her gravid bed she can research via the internet while Winter goes out investigating. As with the earlier books historic crimes play an important part in the story: Narey and Winter discover that there is an underground market in ‘murderabilia’, possessions and items with criminal associations. They could be rent books of Christie’s lodgers, or wanted posters from the Moors Murders, or they could be clothes of the deceased. Some of these things come onto the market as relatives die or police and coroner’s officers sell off their working collections: they are almost legitimate. The clothes of a dead youth such as Aiden McAlpine, though, reveal the existence of another level of existence: of killers and of those who purchase from killers. Since this market has kept itself well hidden, it must have many strengths.
In Robertson’s earlier Witness The Dead Winter worked with his uncle, while in Cold Grave it was Rachel’s father, himself a detective now retired, who kept a cold case open. Things have moved on in the world of family relations; so while Narey naturally wants her child born happily, her father has deteriorated and is now can barely recognise her, let alone comprehend that he is due to become a grandfather. And all the while the murders go on, as does the trail of corpses.
Murderabilia shares many of the themes and narrative methods of Craig Robertson’s earlier books in the series – old crimes returning, for instance, or a refusal to give up the investigation – but the long sections describing Narey’s thoughts as she tries to make sense of the crimes are dull and frequently fail to advance the story. The theme of the ‘investigator in bed’ who has a researcher outside carries echoes of Josephine Tey’s Daughter Of Time or Colin Dexter’s The Wench Is Dead, but the echoes are faint, and really neither Narey nor Winter is the brightest of buttons, even if, compared to their bosses, they are brighter.
If you like this Glaswegian Nick and Nora you will want to read Murderabilia, but other readers may want to wait until Rachel Narey has her baby in child care and is outside once more exploring the closes and tenements of this dark city.