Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Meating Room by T. Frank Muir - Book Review

The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation by T. Frank Muir (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87) is the fifth in a series of police procedurals set in St. Andrews, Scotland, featuring Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Andy Gilchrist. These stories always seem to take place on the dark, cold, winter heaths surrounding the ancient city of St. Andrews, where the fabled Old Course, the most hallowed place in golf, is merely a part of the map while the gritty nature of Scottish criminal existence if foregrounded. The crimes are gruesome, the police officials and on-the-ground grunts are working people with their own problems, flaws, and strengths, the plots complex, and the story-telling superb.

On a chilly morning along the seaside, Maggie Ferguson, out walking her dog, discovers a car sitting on the heath with its motor running and a hose running from the exhaust pipe through the driver's side window. A second look reveals a neatly dressed man in the front seat, apparently dead. In due course, DCI Gilchrist, accompanied by fellow officer, DS Jessie Strange, arrives. After a cursory inspection, awaiting further detailed inspection by the SOCO's, they begin to suspect the death is not a result of a simple suicide. (One of the problems raised by British police procedurals is the abundance of acronyms involved in police rankings. For those interested in decoding them, here's a link. Be warned – there are 271 of them:

As the somewhat convoluted plot emerges, it appears that the body is one Brian McCormack, who, along with his partner Thomas Magner, owns an apparently prosperous holding company. In the early stages of the investigation, McCormack's wife and children are found at home, dead in their beds, with the wife gruesomely dissected. Instinct points towards Magner,but he is well covered with a seemingly unbreakable alibi. Nevertheless, as the police look further, more suspicious deaths are uncovered and unusual relationships emerge.

Muir's novels operate on three levels. The crime is at the forefront, but vying for attention are the complex personal lives of Andy Gilchrist, Jessie Strange, and other members of the St. Andrews investigative team. They all spend significant amounts of time in local pubs, where they consume a good deal of alcohol and interact. Andy's secret lover is the police pathologist, while Jessie tries to avoid the advances of a former boss in a different jurisdiction. Political and bureaucratic issues form the third leg of Muir's stories. The personal costs of a career in police work are always present, and well represented as issues confounding the investigations. Meanwhile, Andy Gilchrist emerges as a canny, insightful, and often impulsively action oriented officer whose instincts often overcome his good sense. As the solution to the crime approaches, the situation becomes more dangerous, tense, and driving. Muir is a master at building tension with the three strands running parallel to each other, wherein lies much of the intense interest and delight in reading his novels.

T. Frank Muir

Born in Glasgow, Frank Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. Thirty-plus years of living and working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank makes his home in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, from where he visits St. Andrews regularly to research in the town’s many pubs and restaurants. (From Soho Press Web site)

With The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87). T. Frank Muir has produced the most persuasive and thought provoking of his DCI Gilchrist books. Gilchrist has become deeper and more human, always struggling with his own problems with women, his children, and alcohol while providing nurture and instruction to his subordinates. I received the book as an Advanced Readers Copy through Edelweiss: Above the Treeline. I read it on my Kindle app.

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