Friday, October 14, 2011
Review: The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley
The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound) is a significant departure from the epic fantasy trilogy that brought Ruckley to the attention of fantasy fans. Set in 1828 Edinburgh, a historic detective tale morphs into something darker and more sinister as Ruckley brings 19th Century Edinburgh alive in his best work to date.
Adam Quire is a war-hardened veteran and an officer for the newly-formed Edinburgh police. A particularly gruesome death doesn’t add up and Quire’s investigation leads him into puzzling and dangerous ground that points to the pillars of Edinburgh society. And then it gets personal and Quire releases the talent he keeps at bay – a talent for survival and extreme violence.
The Edinburgh Dead is the first book by Ruckley that I’ve read since his debut Winterbirth (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound). I found Winterbirth to be on the mediocre side and haven’t been inspired to finish the trilogy (though I do plan to eventually). In The Edinburgh Dead I immediately noticed that Ruckley’s writing has improved significantly. His descriptions are powerful and set the mood well – early 19th Century Edinburgh comes alive through his words. We see the intellectual powerhouse that Edinburgh has become – we also see the dark underpinnings that props up that distinction. There is privilege and there is everyone else. Lives are hard and dangerous – and there is the ever present need for more bodies to dissect on the cities medical stages.
The Edinburgh Dead is a true blend of many genres into one coherent and very well told story. It’s historic fiction, it’s a hardboiled mystery bordering on noir, it’s gothic horror, and it’s an urban fantasy supernatural thriller. Often when such cross-over happens, one still dominates or the combination doesn’t quite fit as well as it should – with The Edinburgh Dead it’s seamless – a natural blend.
The real strength of The Edinburgh Dead is the setting and the way in which Ruckley draws the reader into the dark and dangerous streets of Old Town. Edinburgh comes to life through the broken, beaten and resourceful Quire, a sinister life beneath the glamour of enlightenment. The relatively slow and steady pace continually builds towards the end – a perfect balance that resists the urge to rush. The only real fault is that Ruckley at time over-indulges with his descriptions, particularly in the latter half of the book where the mood has already been set.
The Edinburgh Dead is told mostly from the point of view of Quire and his personality dominates the book. This both good and bad – Quire is a powerful personality and vividly reflective of Ruckley’s 19th Century Edinburgh, however there are a few minor characters who could have been brought out more. If the book had been told entirely from Quire’s point of view, this flaw would have been less noticeable, but increasingly as the novel moves forward we see bits and pieces from other points of view to fill in the blanks of the evolving mystery.
All in all The Edinburgh Dead was refreshing change of pace from Ruckley and a very good historical gothic mystery horror urban supernatural thriller. I hope that Ruckley continues in this direction with more surprises to come.