BLURB: When Mark Howitt is invited back to Leila’s flat and ordered to strip, he thinks he’s about to have the experience of his life. Waking later he finds Leila gone from his side. Keen to leave, he opens the wrong door and finds he’s entered a nightmare; behind the swaying Barbie dolls that hang from the ceiling is the body of the girl he just had sex with. Rhona Macleod’s forensic investigation of the scene reveals the red plaited silk cord used to hang Leila to be a cingulum, a Wiccan artifact used in sex magick. Sketches of sexual partners hidden in the dolls provide a link to nine powerful men, but who are they? As the investigation continues, it looks increasingly likely that other witches will be targeted too. Working the investigation is the newly demoted DS Michael McNab, who is keen to stay sober and redeem himself with Rhona, but an encounter with Leila’s colleague and fellow Wiccan Freya Devine threatens his resolve. Soon McNab realizes Freya may hold the key to identifying the men linked to the dolls, and the Nine will do anything to keep their identities a secret.
First of all, the subject matter of this novel absolutely fascinated me – I must confess I have little truck with things that can’t be proven by science. Mr C has a current obsession with all these ghost hunter programmes, which I think are bunkum. I’m with Edith Wharton – I’ve never seen a ghost but I’m frightened of them! Add to that list astrology, fortune tellers, mediums, angels, etc. You get the picture. I’m a cynic. But Wicca isn’t used to cast any bizarre spells – unless it’s in the hands of Leila, our victim, who we don’t meet for very long as she’s been hanged with a cingulum – in a room filled with 27 Barbie dolls, arranged in a 9 x 9 grid according to hair colour.
This is the tenth Lin Anderson book, and in this one, after the events of the previous book (which I SO must read!), things are slightly awkward with DS Michael MacNab and Dr Rhona MacLeod, due to this secret that’s festering between them (I don’t want to spoiler any of the series as I suspect you may want to read the ones you haven’t – in order, preferably! 😉 as I tell you more about this one!)
Leila was dabbling in the controversial (and allegedly powerful) branch of Wicca called “sex magick” (sounded a bit Aleister Crowley to me – simply a way of seducing beautiful women into sleeping with him, with the help of some drink and drugs.) But secreted inside each creepy, clacking doll they find a crudely drawn naked caricature, illustrated with tattoos, scars, and jewellery. They’re presumed to be pictures of men with whom Leila had slept, as each paper is marked with a smear of sperm of the man. It’s useful forensically, but only once you have a subject to test – unless of course the person is already in the system. Is it as simple as it looks – did Mark Howitt kill her in an alcoholic blackout? Or is there more to it? Was his choice as Leila’s partner for the evening as random as it appeared?
As ever, DS MacNab is the most effective investigator and undoubted star, but there are plenty of examples of teamwork and investigative detail which, combined with Rhona’s forensics, make for an exciting, detailed and compelling tale. However, he’s still nursing a bit of a broken heart over Rhona. This causes him to become far too involved with Freya, one of Leila’s friends who’s been a useful witness. Rhona, our forensic investigator, is now seeing Sean, an Irish musician who owns (and plays in) his own jazz bar in upmarket Ashton Lane (I rather liked the dynamic between them. And I do know I should really root for MacNab…) Also working alongside them, at Rhona’s initial suggestion, is Professor Magnus Pirie, who is a forensic psychologist with excellent knowledge of witchcraft.
However, Leila’s friends are now in danger from the killer, including Freya. Leila’s brother, Danny, also refuses to come in and talk to them – but is he a suspect, or a scared would-be victim? And who are these nine powerful men? Are they so well-connected they could actually persuade someone in police custody the best thing they can do is commit suicide? And if they can, will these men ever be brought to justice – or are they so well-connected a trial would be in jeopardy?
If Paths Of The Dead, the previous book, which is one of the six nominated for Deanstons Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year, is anything like that this one, I’m: a) dying to read it (and any others I may have missed out on); and b) not in the least surprised it was nominated. I admit I initially assumed this one was the nominee, so skilfully does Lin manipulate us through the 434 pages with nary a lull. Obviously it was helped by the fact I found all the Wicca detail fascinating – of which there is a perfect amount; she’s researched this exceptionally well, and we’re never bogged down or bored. I found it fascinating, to my surprise.
This one’s definitely worth a read, so add it to your TBR lists now. There’s a great dramatic climax, and some excellent misdirection, although the eagle-eyed among you may spot one of the nine. Lin Anderson’s come a long way since I bought Driftnet – do yourself a favour and if you haven’t already done so, you do the investigating, and seek out Dr Rhona MacLeod and DS Michael MacNab.
This copy was provided by the publisher MacMillan, in exchange for an unbiased review.