Dark Angels by Grace Monroe

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Dark Angels by Grace Monroe

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Kailash Coutts first hit the headlines in connection with a simple scandal involving a senior corporate lawyer. When she is accused of murder she specifically asks for the only criminal defending barrister on the practice's books. McLennan takes the case against her better judgement and gets drawn into the darkness of politics and power, and unsolved serial killings spanning decades previous.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: November 2007
Publisher: AVON
ISBN: 978-1847560346

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In the early hours of an August Monday morning in Edinburgh, Brodie McLennan gets a call. The custody sergeant is reluctant to tell her who is in the cells and asking for her by name... one Kailash Coutts.

A name enough for probably the youngest criminal barrister on the scene not to want to take the case. Ms Coutts, a dominatrix of some repute, had previously brought McLennan's practice (and therefore her personally) close to bankruptcy. Why should she want to have any dealings with the woman ever again?

The scandal that threatened financial ruin had involved one of the senior partners in the firm being caught... well, "red-handed" is an inappropriate term, but you get the gist. Roddie would need to be consulted before she could accept the case. Forgetting that he was out of the country, McLennan finds herself under instruction from his establishment wife to 'bury' it.

Perhaps that's reason enough to take it.

What doesn't dawn on her until she hits the full media circus outside the police station, and not even immediately then, is that she does not know who the accused is supposed to have murdered.

Only the Lord President of the Court of Session. The highest Law Lord in Scotland.

There are times when you wish you'd never picked up the phone. This is going to prove to be one of them for young Brodie McLennan.

She is not the average lawyer. Born and brought up, not quite in the slums, but not that far out of them, she's done well - VERY well - to get this far this quick. She's left her roots far enough behind not to be comfortable in those parts of town and to speak with an appropriate accent for her new world - but not so far behind to prevent her scruffing about in grubby t-shirts and biker boots and riding a Harley; not so far behind that amongst her trusted allies gained through University and work (former lecturers, co-students) she can't also count her practice secretary, employed despite her dubious past and possibly because of a tendency to hack into places she shouldn't be, and Glasgow Joe. Joe is - no other word for it - a thug. The kind of thug, of whom you don't ask questions; the kind with the reputation that sees him not needing to behave that way anymore since a word-to-the-wise will do; the kind whose protection you will welcome when the time comes.

Against her better judgement McLennan takes the case... and finds it being steam-rollered into court quicker than she could imagine. Meanwhile, a fallen-star journalist Jack Deans is on her case... and the untouchable local street gang: the stylish enigmatic Goths, the Dark Angels, are also paying particular and for them unusually visible attention.

By the end of her first day on the case, she is run off the road and beaten up... and life is going to get a lot more complicated and a lot more painful yet, as Malcolm appears from nowhere with his unorthodox mecidinal remedies and references to unsolved murders from a serial killer years back appear to make a link not only to current investigations, but to Brodie personally. What has she got herself into?

When it comes to not judging books by their cover, Dark Angels is a case in point. From cover design alone, you might be expecting vampires or witches or some other sub-horror-genre rendition. Nothing of the sort. This is pure crime thriller at its best.

In a few characters it covers all the angles: lawyers, crooks, ex(?)-crooks, prostitutes, cops, forensic scientists, victims and ex(?)-victims... with one or two ordinary folk thrown in at the margins.

Set in the dark and rainy streets of Edinburgh, it's a fine addition to the Rankin tradition. Some of the detail is unnecessary, and some of it is quite possibly borrowed from monuments in other places (one particular story I recently heard attributed to dogs in Slovenia, rather than a horse in Edinburgh).

I do feel that novelists should remember that we don't need the street directions - they can map them out and save them for the screen adaptation - those who know the place will be able to follow lesser clues to the route, and those who don't won't know what they're talking about anyway. Fortunately, however, these passages are few and far between.

For all the detail, Dark Angels isn't an atmospheric book... nor is it character driven. This is a good old fashioned murder-mystery... and it delivers what is required: pace. The plot does not let up for a second. Every chapter delivers a new clue or a new twist, or discounts an old one. Every chapter finishes with a neat hook into the next one. For a book built mostly on short chapters - though there is enough variety of length to allow tension to build where required - this is some achievement.

There are no deep messages hidden in the pages, and the only sense in which it is thought-provoking is the one that forces you to want to work it out before the protagonists do. You do get one extra clue to assist you in this - for the rest, you know what they know. Game on.

There are a few well-worked themes and conspiracy theories - and a little more creativity in the final motivations would have made an excellent book into a perfect one, but that's a quibble. I read this one in a couple of sittings... and I'm delighted to know that Brodie will be back sometime next year.

Escapist entertainment that doesn't seek to be anything else.

For those who like to know these things: Grace Monroe is the nom-de-plume of the writing team Maria Thomson and Linda Watson-Brown. Thomson has the legal background (together with supplementary experience in hypnotherapy, sports coaching and fertility counselling), Watson-Brown studied politics and brings the journalist and fiction-writing experience to the mix. They work well together.

If you enjoy this you might also like just about anything in the Rankin tradition - check out The Naming of the Dead or Exit Music from the man himself. You might also enjoy Death at Friar's Inn by Rob Keeley.

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Buy Dark Angels by Grace Monroe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dark Angels by Grace Monroe at Amazon.com.

Booklists.jpg Dark Angels by Grace Monroe is in the Top Ten Crime Novels.


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