Sins of the Dead by Lin Anderson - book review

Doctor Rhona MacLeod is using to dealing with dark crimes'¦ but now there's a killer on the loose and this time her own life could be in danger.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 22nd August 2018, 2:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd August 2018, 2:10 pm
Sins of the Dead by Lin Anderson
Sins of the Dead by Lin Anderson

Welcome back to the shadowy world of Glasgow’s cleverest forensic scientist, and the thirteenth thrilling novel in an atmospheric and gritty crime series which has raised author and screenwriter Lin Anderson to the heady heights of Queen of Tartan Noir.

This is a writer who takes her craft so seriously that she attended a forensic science medical course at Glasgow University. Along with input from a group of forensic scientist friends, this has enabled Anderson to make Rhona MacLeod one of the most credible and exciting characters in crime fiction.

At the heart of Anderson’s atmospheric and gritty stories are the doggedly determined Rhona and DS Michael McNab, her maverick Glasgow-based police sidekick, a lovable ladies’ man whose simmering, sexually tense relationship with Rhona keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

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Here, the star players face a terrifying and obsessive murderer whose ritualistic killings point to an ancient practice in which a sin-eater, often imagined as a grotesque goblin, consumes a pseudo-religious meal of bread and wine in order to consume the sins of a person who died without making confession.

While illegally racing in the old railway tunnels under the East End of Glasgow, four Harley-Davidson riders make a horrifying discovery. A dead man has been left stretched out in the darkness, his hands placed together on his chest as if peacefully laid to rest.

The police are even more puzzled by the discovery of a half glass of red wine and a partially eaten chunk of bread which have been found nearby on the seat of a long-abandoned car.

The cause of death is unclear and Rhona calls in her colleague, Magnus Pirie, a professor of forensic psychology, who immediately recognises the Last Supper connotation as an echo the ancient religious practice of sin-eating.

But Rhona is perplexed by the lack of forensic evidence at the scene, and the disturbing discovery of wine stains and crumbs left on bodies at a local funeral parlour. When another body is found near her own flat, laid out in a similar manner, Rhona fears a forensically aware and organised serial killer is marking the victims with their unique signature.

Even more worryingly, the killer appears to be using skills they may have learned while attending Rhona’s forensic science lectures at Glasgow University. There are signs too that she is being stalked. The killer appears to be playing with both Rhona and the police, drawing them into a deadly race against time before the sin-eater’s next victim is chosen…

Sins of the Dead is a gripping page-turner, blending an intriguing mystery with another fascinating exploration of forensic science as Rhona and McNab race against time to catch a killer who is relishing playing the scientist at her own game.

Tense, atmospheric and often gruesome, this is a mesmerising mystery steeped in the darkness, danger and emotional depth that have become the hallmarks of Anderson’s incisive and yet beautifully descriptive writing.

Rhona’s turbulent private life – and her complex relationship with the impulsive McNab – have become as much a part of the series as the murders that have taken her from the shadowy underbelly of Glasgow to the wilds of Orkney and the frozen Cairngorms.

Intensely personal, terrifyingly brutal, and sprinkled with moments of unexpected tenderness, this is a story to both thrill and chill.

(Macmillan, hardback, £14.99)