Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Title: Flesh House
Author: Stuart MacBride
ISBN: 9780007244553, Harper Collins, 2009
Genre: Police Procedural, #4 Logan McRae mystery
Rating: A

First Line: "No, you listen to me: if my six-year-old son isn't back here in ten minutes I'm going to come round there and rip you a new arsehole, are we clear?"

When the newest Stuart MacBride mystery arrives here at Casa Kittling, I feel as though Fort Knox has just delivered another gold bar. Yes, I love these books, but if a blend of (often) black humor and very gruesome scenes aren't your thing, save yourself some time and skip this review.

Detective Sergeant Logan McRae works the mean streets of Aberdeen, Scotland, and he'd probably tell you that police headquarters is often more dire than the streets. He has a strong sense of right and wrong, a strong sense of duty, and he often has brilliant flashes of intuition. He is also a piece of taffy pulled between two of the most obnoxious detective inspectors you'll ever find in crime fiction-- and they both have death grips on him. If I were McRae, sooner or later I'd snap and wear my "Some Mornings It's Not Worth Chewing Through the Restraints" t-shirt to work where I'd tell both inspectors exactly what I thought of them as I turned in my warrant card.

Twenty years ago "The Flesher" was butchering people all over the UK until the Grampian Police put him in prison. It's eleven years later, he's out on appeal, and now he's missing and people are being turned into oven-ready joints again. When members of the original investigation team begin disappearing, McRae realizes that the case might not be as clear cut as everyone else seems to think.

Flesh House begins slowly and continues to build-- typical MacBride. Most of the humor is in the first half of the book. I've begun to think of this as a diversionary tactic. MacBride wants you to keep laughing while he moves his chess pieces into position all over the board. Hopefully by the time you wipe the tears from your eyes and calm down, his trap is set and you don't have a prayer of escape. Me? I'm a sheep to the slaughter when it comes to this particular crime fiction writer. He can be hilarious. I'll give you a few examples. You'll either agree that he's brilliant, or you'll look at both of us as if we forgot to don our strait jackets this morning...

Logan had met their state-of-the-art security system-- it was a sixty-eight-year-old man called Harold. Logan had sneezed more alert things than him.

Which sounded incredibly unlikely to Logan: Insch wouldn't ask for help if his crotch was on fire. From the look on her face, Isobel didn't believe it either.

As Logan watched, Detective Constable Simon Rennie boogied his way past them, doing a pretty good impersonation of an octopus being electrocuted.

This is MacBride's most complex mystery yet, and since cannibalism is one of the strong themes running throughout the book, I'm wondering how many fans he lost with Flesh House . He definitely doesn't sugar coat the theme. (I have a very high tolerance of such things, and it even bothered me a time or two.) But I kept reading because I love his writing and I love the character of Logan McRae. The slapstick, the underlying seriousness, the gruesome scenes are all woven into stories that I can't resist. A carrot was dangled in front of McRae in this book, and it seems to have changed his way of thinking a bit. All the threads weren't tied off neatly at the end, so I'm just going to have to see what happens in the next book.

I can't wait.


  1. Good review. I 'discovered' MacBride earlier this year, and have since read 4 of his 6 books, including FLESH HOUSE.

    I really enjoyed FLESH HOUSE too - similarly I like the mix of dark crime and dark humour, the way he 'takes the piss' about a few things. I realise it's not for everyone, but I'm going to keep on reading him.

  2. Thanks for the review. It takes talent to be able to give the reader reasons to laugh against such a black background, so even though MacBride's style isn't what I would search out, I really respect his skill.

  3. I love to read your 'first lines' and this one grabbed me right off. I'm glad you do that with your reviews.

  4. I can read gruesome scenes but can't watch them and recently discovered I can't listen to them either.

  5. Craig-- Same here. I know his style isn't for everyone, but it is for me, and I'm along for the ride.

    Margot K.-- As usual, you're 100% correct. Something like that takes a great deal of skill. Not everyone can appreciate it, but that's completely understandable.

    Margot JR-- I'm glad you like my inclusion of first lines. Sometimes they can give a rather accurate forecast of what sort of book it is.

    Kathy-- I've found that I'm getting less tolerant of watching them myself. I've often thought that my high tolerance is a result of going hunting with my grandfather and watching him skin and dress animals.

  6. Oh boy! A Scottish writer I haven't read! Thanks, Cathy--once again, I'm enlightened by your blog. (Not to mention having my wallet enlightened.)

  7. Cathy -
    I finally got your posts up in my google reader, and am now getting around to reading them. :)
    Nice review.
    I like dark and violence does not bother me, as long as its in a novel/book....
    Would you recommend that I start with some if his earlier books first?

  8. Charlie-- At least it's a good kind of enlightening... not like having your car need expensive repairs or summat. :)

    Shellie-- You can read each book as a standalone, but the characters are so good that I'd recommend starting at the beginning with Cold Granite.

  9. I'm like Kathy - I can read (or flip quickly past!) the gruesome scenes. Can't watch them or listen to them in audio. I haven't read Macbride yet. I'm putting him down as an author to try but not in audio!

  10. Belle--Give Cold Granite a try first!

  11. What an author this man is! Wonderful books that keep you turning page after page long after you should have stopped reading.


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