Thursday, July 22, 2010

halfhead by Stuart MacBride

Title: halfhead
Author: Stuart MacBride
ISBN: 9780007298709
Published by: Harper Voyager UK, 2009
Trade Paperback, 376 pages
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Police Procedural
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Bookcloseouts.

First Line: There's blood everywhere.

I've been known to warn folks that, if they have a low tolerance for gore, they might want to give MacBride's Logan McRae mystery series a miss. That warning would go quadruple for halfhead, a novel set in Glasgow, Scotland in the near future. It's a future firmly based in today's events, but I pray that it never comes to pass. Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

They call them halfheads: Convicted criminals, surgically mutilated and lobotomised by the State, then sent out do menial jobs in the community so everyone will know what happens when you break the law. There are no appeals, no reprieves, and no one ever comes back. Until now.

Dr Fiona Westfield, one of the most prolific serial killers Glasgow has ever seen, is waking up. Surrounded by blood and death and darkness. And she wants revenge.

William Hunter has risen through the ranks since putting Westfield away; now he's Assistant Network Director, in charge of tech-crimes and police actions. Then a routine murder investigation uncovers an appalling conspiracy.

The vast connurb blocks on Glasgow's deprived south side are about to explode: eleven years ago the VR riots killed millions - now someone wants to start them all over again. And Will is being dragged back into a past he desperately wants to forget.

See what I mean? This world isn't pretty. Not even close. It's a world of Compressed Urban Habitation in which as many people as possible are crammed in as small a living space as possible. It's a world where the masses are kept tractable by continuous feeds of VR-- virtual reality. There are high tech weapons and high tech transportation, and lots of crime.

Even without reading about this book on MacBride's website, I would've known that this is his first novel, and that the Logan McRae mysteries that I love came later. Why? The plot and the action are very good, but the gore factor is so over the top that one scene in particular made me ill (and I'm not squeamish). The characters show depth, but MacBride's trademark twisted, dark sense of humor feels as though it's slipped a gear; it just doesn't quite work. Perhaps it was because the tone of the book was so unrelentingly grim and horrific, but I barely cracked a smile at the humorous bits, let alone laughed out loud.

Although the various elements don't always work smoothly, I did find halfhead fascinating for its view of what the future may hold, and for the simple fight of good against evil. However, if you're not in the mood for a huge slab of tough, extremely rare steak, I'd leave this one alone and stick with MacBride's Logan McRae books.


  1. Cathy - Thanks, as always, for this review. I know exactly what you mean about over-the-top gore. It is interesting to think about what the future - even a bleak future - would be like, but I might wait on this one. I like the Logan MacRae series, but I do have my gore-preference limit.

  2. I can handle the gore, but this one might be a bit too science fiction-y for my tastes. I'll take your advice and leave this one be.

  3. Love that first line: "There's blood everywhere." That would suck me in right there, but I'm not a SF reader so probably wouldn't like it once I read further. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Wow! Thanks for the warning. This definitely isn't for me.

  5. Margot-- I think you'd do well to leave this one alone. That one scene still makes my stomach lurch.

    Beth-- Okie dokie!

    Lynne-- It didn't strike me as all that SF, but you know your preferences much better than I. :)

    Barbara-- I love MacBride to bits, but I can see why this book didn't find a publisher right off the bat.


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