Thursday, 4 February 2016

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride (Ash Henderson, #1) - Book Review

5/5 Stars

Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret...


Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 472
Chapters: 50 (Plus two epilogue-like pieces at the end.)
Publisher: HarperCollins

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Author's Website


And the award for darkest crime thriller ever goes to...

Holy crap, Mr MacBride. So the author is known for his darkness and grit, it's practically unrivalled, and then you read Birthdays for the Dead and it stains your soul. It's twisted and torn, tragic and tantalising, everything a novel like it should bloody be. If you have a weak disposition, move along, because you are about to be battered in the feels and left completely traumatised.

From the plot to the characters to the writing, Mr MacBride gleefully one-ups himself. 

Personal, emotionally shocking and under a perpetual cloud of black, get ready for a horror ride through the deepest depravity...

Synopsis (This time round, I'll be using the blurb that comes with my edition of the book.)

Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret...

Five years ago his daughter, Rebecca, went missing on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. A year later the first card arrived: homemade, with a Polaroid picture stuck to the front - Rebecca, strapped to a chair, gagged and terrified. Every year another card: each one worse than the last.

The tabloids call him 'The Birthday Boy'. He's been snatching girls for twelve years, always in the run-up to their thirteenth birthday, sending the families his homemade cards showing their daughters being slowly tortured to death.

But Ash hasn't told anyone about Rebecca's birthday cards - they all think she's just run away from home - because if anyone finds out, he'll be taken off the investigation. And he's sacrificed too much to give up before his daughter's killer gets what he deserves...

Plot - 5/5 Stars

I love the blurb (up above), it encapsulates exactly what you'll get through this journey: Secrets, barbarity and utter hell. If you're a crime thriller fan who is morbidly fascinated by darkness, look no further, my friends. Crap, what does that say about me? Don't worry, I love the light and fluffy stuff too.

A quick negative for me before we get to the praise. I do feel with the beginning you have to persevere, there are a ton of names thrown at you and the timeline for the abducted girls is a little jumbled throughout, but keep going, because MacBride has taken care with bringing everything into a startling focus.

I'd be remiss if I didn't make a comparison between this series and the author's more widespread one: The Logan McRae novels. If you're new to the author and enjoy his writing, then rejoice, there are plenty more stories under his belt. But, if you're like me, and you got here because of your love of the dynamic duo Logan and Steel, a comparison is inevitable.

I'll get more into it in the characters' section, but for the story, the author, like I've said, outdoes himself. I'm all caught up with Logan McRae, I've journeyed through MacBride's devilishly delightful imagination, and Birthdays for the Dead still surprises me. The plot is intense even without the cast; it's a slippery weasel with so many twists and turns that an in-depth map couldn't help you.

The pain and horror are palpable and consuming. I really just want to go ahead and blurt out everything, but I'll hold my tongue, I do try and do some reviews without spoilers.

Aside from the garishly gruesome, Oldcastle CID (the police force Ash works for) is bent as hell. They don't sacrifice the job and results, but holy crap, the crooked elements of the team and their crooked connections to criminals is as insulting as it is invigorating. 

And that end, people. Prepare yourself, I won't tell you what happens, but if you can't tell just how hopeless things are by this review, then you probably best have some sort of alcoholic beverage at your side for the finale...

Pace - 5/5 Stars

You barely notice just how fast you're travelling through this novel; the wealth of things happening is balanced in the structure and hooking. Action and gritty comedy help alleviate the horror, even if it is just a little and not enough. The characters are impressive, so you'll always have people around you to help (even if they are fictional).

Characters - 5/5 Stars

This is where I feel I make my heaviest comparisons between MacBride's two series. I can't help it, the acclaim of Logan and Steel is mighty, in my mind at least. There are two characters who are the focal point: Ash, our protagonist, and Alice, our criminal psychologist. And let me tell you, they are as awesome as their counterparts but completely unique and engaging on their own.

Ash is a tortured soul of the highest order. While Logan in his series comes along more slowly with his personal history, Ash is a broken man on a mission right from the start. He's a man who cares little for rules and regulations; his morality is severely screwed. It's not a surprise, from the very beginning you get a fantastic justification to Ash's actions that firmly place the reader behind him.

It's fascinating to watch his tenuous life develop, especially because there are so many things in it that could derail everything he's working for.

Dr Alice McDonald comes as a breath of fresh air. She's intelligent but completely bloody bonkers. Half Ash's age, the father/daughter relationship they share and the backstory that drives it is heartbreaking. It's completely different from Logan and Steel's connection, and MacBride wows with having two casts that could completely rule a TV series.

Writing - 5/5 Stars

You're going to feel everything.

Nuff said...

Overall - 5/5 Stars

God, I need emotional energy, please...

Next Instalment: A Song for the Dying

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