Book review: Follow the Dead by Lin Anderson

Follow the Dead by Lin Anderson
Follow the Dead by Lin Anderson

A romantic Hogmanay escape to the Cairngorms becomes a disturbing investigation into a human trafficking ring for dedicated forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod.

But with blizzards closing in, a ruthless enemy to track down and the disappearance of a young girl who could be an important witness for the police, Rhona will have her work cut out.

Follow the Dead – nominated for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2017 – is a gripping page-turner set in a terrifyingly bleak and frozen landscape, and the twelfth book in Lin Anderson’s outstanding Rhona MacLeod series… a brilliant blend of intriguing mysteries and fascinating science with two complex, charismatic star players directing the action.

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.

Here, the dynamic duo join forces to solve a mystery that stretches far from the shores of Scotland to Stavanger, a city surrounded by steep mountains and deep fjords in south-western Norway.

On holiday in the Scottish Highlands with her jazz musician boyfriend Sean Maguire, Dr Rhona MacLeod joins a mountain rescue team on Cairngorm summit as an observer in their helicopter search for four experienced climbers who have disappeared in a blizzard on Ben Macdui.

In an awe-inspiring landscape where the weather ‘might appear to be your friend one moment, only to become your fiercest enemy the next,’ it seems unsurprising when three of the young climbers are eventually found dead in their bivouac under the famous Shelter Stone cave.

But there is no sign of the fourth climber, a young woman, and Rhona is not convinced that the deaths were due to the freezing conditions. The mystery increases when a plane crash-lands on frozen Loch A’an with no radar report that it had gone missing.

In Glasgow, meanwhile, DS Michael McNab’s raid on the Delta Club produces far more than just a massive haul of cocaine. Questioning Amena Tamar, a 13-year-old Syrian found partying with the city’s elite, reveals she was smuggled into Scotland via Norway, and it seems the crashed plane in the Cairngorms may be linked to the club.

But before McNab can discover more, Amena is abducted from her hospital bed. Joined by Stavanger detective Alvis Olsen, who harbours disturbing theories about how the two cases are connected with his Norwegian homeland, Rhona and McNab search for the missing link.

And what they uncover is a dark underworld populated by ruthless people willing to do anything to ensure the investigation dies in the frozen wasteland of the Cairngorms…

Anderson is a master storyteller, filling her novels with engaging characters, clever, compelling, contemporary plotlines and a beautifully descriptive prose that belies the death and darkness of her powerful, pulsating crime mysteries.

Here, the majestic but forbidding backdrop of the wintertime Cairngorms, clothed in deadly ice packs and suffocating snow drifts, brings an added measure of spine-tingling menace to a story packed with revelations, wry humour and unexpected twists and turns.

Perfectly paced and with alternating narratives – including that of the merciless, shadowy killer – Follow the Dead is a true thriller-chiller, and an enthralling read for both seasoned fans and newcomers to the work of this talented author.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)