Cradle to Grave, set in Galloway, Scotland, features a cast of characters whose past and present deeds will play out as the novel progresses. There’s a huge estate on the headland, Roscarron, owned by Gillis Crozier who lives there with his drug-dependent daughter, her sarcastic husband and their unpleasant young son. Crozier is organising a rock festival, hence there are assorted people around helping to get the site ready, among them Joss Hepburn, a middle-aged but still immensely popular superstar who will be the chief draw. The permanently disgruntled foreman, Alik Buchan, lives in one of the small cottages bordering the estate with his wife Maidie, baby and mother. A young woman called Beth Brown is staying in another cottage with her boyfriend: the house belonged to her deceased grandmother who was a friend of Crozier’s.
The elements are to the fore as the novel opens, as storms rage around the coast. Not only are power and telephone lines down, but a serious landslide affects houses and cottages in the area, and the promontory is cut off when the bridge connecting it to the mainland collapses as the river beneath floods. DI Marjory Fleming and DS Tam McNee, who have arrived to check out the festival arrangements, are trapped at the height of the tempest: injured and unable to return to their homes, they have to seek shelter at the estate house. Beth is not so lucky, her cottage is semi-demolished by a fall of earth, and she only just escapes. She takes shelter with the Buchans, who live nearby, and helps to look after their baby, despite Alik’s hostility.
Eventually the area is evacuated by helicopter and a Bailey bridge is put in place, allowing people to come and go. Marjory and Tam are suspicious of Crozier and his set-up – and by coincidence it turns out that Joss is an old flame of Marjory’s, compounding her sense of unease, as he is not a pleasant man. Soon it is clear that the police officers’ instincts are correct: the collapsed bridge was sabotaged, and as rescue teams arrive, a dead man is found in Beth’s cottage – who, it turns out, was murdered.
There are many comings and goings between Roscarron and Kircluce, the small town where the police team is based. As well as the complex case under investigation (bodies are discovered thick and fast), there are significant tensions within the police team. Tam has taken against a new female DC, Kim Kershaw, not realising the true reason why Kim’s daughter is at “boarding school”. Tam himself is under great pressure at home but is not telling anyone about it. Marjory is thrown by the reappearance in her life of Joss, and manages to alienate her saintly husband Bill by the way she tells him that Joss is around. Worse still, as Marjory’s investigation continues, Joss threatens her, telling her he’ll reveal her “youthful misdemeanours” (direct quote!) to The Sun newspaper unless she drops it.
I did enjoy Cradle to Grave, though some of the themes in it are becoming a motif of the series. The author focuses on the troubled character of Beth, who was acquitted of a crime some years ago, but who is still haunted by it. It turns out that these past actions are the driver for the main plot, which is much more successful than the subsidiary plot of shady businesses and hitmen from Glasgow. Despite a few oddities (would a rock legend really be travelling entirely on his own with no entourage?), the story is solid and enjoyable, though the ending is contrived, with not one, but two, “in peril” clichés. The author is at her strongest in the dynamics between the police officers and her character sketches of the locals and their concerns. Perhaps there are slightly too many of these characters in this particular book, which is rather long and in some places unfocused. By the end I was left slightly puzzled as to the motivation for the murders in the first place (particularly that of the first victim to be found), which seems overly complex, not least when the hitmen are anticipated and, later, appear.
I borrowed this book from the library.
My reviews of the previous novels in this series (Cradle to Grave is the most recent, so I am now up to date): Cold in the Earth (1), The Darkness and the Deep (2), Lying Dead (3), Lamb to the Slaughter (4) and Dead in the Water (5).