Cut Her Dead by Iain McDowall

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Cut Her Dead by Iain McDowall

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Four of the 'beautiful people' brutalising young women in the name of Art, with Jacobson & Kerr trying to find them before it escalates into murder...but what is the ultimate aim of the Project?
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 978-0749908263

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Brady is sitting in a bar drinking unsullied mineral water discarding the shabby slither of lime, while the two beautiful girls with him Maria and Annabel sip what passed for margaritas in a provincial town. So out of place, these oh-so-beautiful people... but Brady has spotted 'the girl'... the one they have come here to find, or rather, to choose.

The girl is Tracey. Of course. What else could she be called? Certainly nothing as elegant as Annabel or Maria. She is 'off the estate' as they say in the soap operas (and crime novels) and she is with her increasingly drunk, intended-to-be-ex-boyfriend. He treats her unfairly, unkindly, and this is the night she has chosen to walk away from it.

The wrong night to pick... with Brady watching.

A pint of bitter dumped over Casper's head and sympathy from the beautiful people leads Tracey into the kind of trouble she probably hasn't even read about... .might have seen sometime on a straight-to-video movie. Which is precisely where she is about to end up.

Brady & his girl-friends have an accomplice... the Techie. Every "Art Project" needs one these days, and this is above all else an "Art" project.

Or is it just sheer old-fashioned brutality?

Either way it involves the four intelligent, illegally rich, sexy, good-lookers kidnapping and torturing young women, filming their terror and their shame and publishing it in the name of 'art'.

To begin with, at least, they stop a long way short of murder... .and thus Tracey finds her way to the Police and DCI Frank Jacobson and DS Ian Kerr are soon on the case.

(As it happens, in the background, so is the much-maligned Caspar... but that's a backdrop that isn't played to full effect.)

This is the fifth Crowby novel and fans of the earlier books are probably familiar with Jacobson & Kerr. For newcomers... it doesn't matter. Their characters aren't really an issue. This for me was the one real weakness of the book. I didn't get to know the coppers, couldn't relate to them as people. We get small insights into their thought processes, their lives and wives and girlfriends. They are more than ciphers for the profession... but somehow, little more. I didn't manage to keep track of which one was doing what, and on the whole found it didn't matter.

The bad guys on the other hand, and the victims come to that, are much more real. In swapping focus between chapters or within them from watching the investigation to watching the continuing 'adventure' of the crooks / misadventure of their targets, McDowall effectively switches voices. The sheer snobbery of the bored intellectuals, and the innate uneducated albeit-seriously-flawed decency of their opposites, echoes through the language, even though the story is told in the third person, with only occasional thought-pictures from the protagonists. Although it gets over-egged now and again, with a few too many F***ing's for my personal taste, it is an effective mechanism generally deployed with flair.

Only with the police do we seem to shift into corporate blandness. Perhaps that too is deliberate. Perhaps we should not be able to distinguish one detective from another. But if that were so, then we could probably skip the background diversions altogether.

But let's not get pretentious about this. Cut Her Dead is promoted as a crime thriller, and although it slips into police procedural (not to say police political) a little more than is strictly necessary... it does manage to maintain the suspense. Where exactly are the cool controlling Brady (interesting choice of name) and his gang heading - do they know, do they have a reason? Just how together are they? And how, and why? And ultimately... is it Art?

If the genre appeals, it's an entertaining enough read. Intelligent and well-plotted enough to keep you guessing. The story is totally plausible right up to the end... which disappointed me a little. I know how things happen in the real world - exactly like this as often as not. Maybe I want something a little more subtle, a little more deliberate from a fictional resolution, that doesn't leave quite so many questions unanswered.

My thanks to the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close or The Interpretations by David Shaw Mackanzie.

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