BLURB: Nobody likes the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team, least of all the people who work for it. An uneasy mix of seconded Police and health service staff, Mona, Bernard and their colleagues stem the spread of the Virus, a mutant strain of influenza, by tracking down people who have missed their monthly health check. Now two young female students are missing, raising question after question for the HET. Why were they drinking in a bikers’ bar? Who are the mysterious Children of Camus cult? And why is the German government interfering in the investigation? Mona and Bernard need to fight their way through lies and intrigue, and find the missing girls – before anyone else does.
After greatly enjoying Lesley Kelly’s debut novel, A Fine House In Trinity, which also made the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year (now the McIlvanney Prize), I was looking forward to seeing what she came up with next. I’ll admit I was a bit dubious when I read it was a post-pandemic novel, as they aren’t generally my thing; however, this book is set firmly in present-day Edinburgh. A fair proportion of the population have been struck down with a flu for which there is no cure. Many have died in two huge waves of it, but those who survived it are now immune (although plenty have lost people close to them), and many of them now work on the frontline in the continuing fight against the disease – such as our team at the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team. They’re made up of a combination of cops paired with health workers – a pairing that isn’t always sweetness and light… We have Mona, from CID, a typically keen copper, who works with Bernard, a health promotion officer (who’s suffered a horrendous personal loss at the hands of the pandemic) – he believes education is the solution, while Mona definitely prefers jailing people. We also have Maitland, a green – but very keen – cop, who works better with his partner, one-time nurse Carole. There’s good banter between the teams, particularly Mona and Bernard, with Mona’s impatience with Bernard’s touchy-feely way of working. The team’s job is to track down those who don’t appear for their monthly health check. In most cases, this is due to someone’s chaotic lifestyle due to drink or drugs; occasionally it’s because they’ve succumbed to the disease between their monthly checks.
Crime fans needn’t worry though – there’s plenty to keep you interested! Representatives of the German government become involved when a German student, the daughter of a politician, disappears. And when it’s discovered she attended the same church as three girls who overdosed, with two dead and one still in a coma, panic builds. Then another girl from the church goes missing…
What these girls are dying from is a combination of drugs that are named on the internet as being possibly effective against the disease – however, there are dozens of such crazy theories about. What the HET need to find out is this: who is selling them the lethal cocktail that is leading to their deaths? And what’s the connection between the church they all attend, and the dodgy pub owner who lets them use a backroom for services? Could he be involved in this drugs scam? And where exactly are the missing girls? Are they alive…or dead?
There’s LOADS more happening, but I won’t be a spoiler. This is a hugely more confident novel, with the same easy, realistic dialogue (something that’s actually quite hard to pull off) and a plot that grabs you from the off, and doesn’t let go. Kelly can definitely be filed under “hot new talent” in the Tartan Noir drawer. I’m delighted this is the first in a series – Songs By Dead Girls (great title!) will be released in 2018 by Sandstone Press (one of my favourite publishers!)