Review: Edge of the Grave, by Robbie Morrison
Bit of a damp squib, this one - lots of promise, doesn't quite deliver on the execution.
My main issue is that, though this is supposedly set in 1932 Glasgow, Robbie Morrison seems to forget that he's chosen to write a historical mystery, and falls into the trap of a lot of anachronisms. He'll get into his flow of writing a good, modern detective novel, complete with forensics analyses and modern-day behavioural psychology, and then all of a sudden he remembers that his characters are supposed to be set in 1932 and we get several paragraphs of explaining a recent historical event to prove that, yes, we are indeed in 1930s Glasgow and not a modern-day, interchangeable, nameless city. It's jarring, it's weird, and it's messy - and it's completely unnecessary. If he was incapable of sticking to his setting and time period, then why didn't he just write a modern detective novel? His choice of plot and characters would work just as well in modern times as the 1930s, as the time period doesn't seem to have that much impact on his characters at all.
Which leads me to problem #2 - the characters don't feel very differentiated, and their inner lives and voices don't serve to flesh them out in the way I would have liked. There's a lot of saying that Dreghorn, the central character, is hella traumatized from World War I (which, like, I am willing to believe - trench warfare was hell made manifest), but it's all telling rather than showing, so the emotional impacts don't land. At all.
And lastly, the story wasn't compelling. The serial killer at the centre of the mystery wasn't an interesting serial killer; he was so completely psychopathic that his reveal wasn't impactful (that sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but hear me out - the best mystery novels are the ones where the villain has enough humanity in them that the horror is highlighted and thrown into sharper relief; this guy is just a pastiche and he's such an overblown serial killer that it is hard to care about him, or his victims. And, of course, because he is such a disappointing reveal, that means the entirety of the search for him is kind of... dull.
The secondary mystery was hard to care about, as well - it was never properly brought into the story, and was only tackily made relevant to the overarching one by some surprise incest that was never hinted at, or suggested, or even makes sense in the overall plot.
Having said all that, here is why this book gets three stars: the sense of setting is well done. I felt like I was wandering around in Glasgow, even though I must say I didn't particularly want to be at points; and the action scenes were gripping. This was also a speedy read, and it served as a good palate cleanser after the heaviness of the book I'd read prior. I don't think I'll be reading the other books in this planned series, though.
All told - I think give this one a pass.