Book review: The Coffinmaker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride (Ash Henderson 3)

the coffinmaker's garden stuart macbrideThe Coffinmaker’s Garden is the third in the Ash Henderson series but also features the ‘Misfit Mob’, the team of delinquent detectives who featured in the standalone A Dark So Deadly. It is set in the fictional Oldcastle.

Former detective Ash remains traumatised by the death of his daughter, and is working in a civilian role for Police Scotland in a special unit, alongside his friend and housemate Dr Alice McDonald, a clinical psychologist, whose at times childish loquaciousness belies her brilliance. Their team is in pursuit of one serial killer, who is taking and abusing children, when a house on a windswept coast is washed into the North Sea, revealing an underground killing chamber in the basement.

Alice continues to profile the child killer while Ash is drafted into to work on the second case, alongside DS Franklin of the Misfit Mob. They want to track down the owner of the abandoned house, set designer Gordon Smith, and identify the victims, with not much more to go on than Polaroid photos taken by the killer.

Throw into the mix a ruthless tabloid journalist and a neighbour of Gordon Smith who also has a colourful criminal history, and you have an eventful road trip for Ash and Franklin. As events escalate, Ash strikes out on his own, and then with his best friend DI Morrow, aka Shifty, to mete out his own particular brand of justice.

The strength of MacBride’s books for me has always been the way they combine violent and disturbing storylines with humour. The Logan McRae novels are police procedurals, and follow the logic of an investigation, but the characters are all heightened, funny, odd, with their own idiosyncratic motives, from lust for power, to vanity, to laziness.

Logan McRae is the everyman, a decent guy trying to do good in a world that is both cruel and absurd. When he does break the rules, it’s for the greater good. Ash Henderson is a very different character, a vigilante fuelled by a need for revenge, constrained only by what he can get away with. While the humour is there, the overall feel is bleaker.

MacBride’s books often have a huge cast of characters, and it hasn’t bothered me before, but I did struggle a bit here, even though I’ve read the previous books. In my review of A Dark So Deadly I did express the wish that the Misfit Mob would be back, but though they are here, aside from Franklin, they are in the background, so you don’t get so much of their tragic flaws and comic exchanges.

The Coffinmaker’s Garden does, however, have all the MacBride trademarks — the pace, the energy, the visceral violence, along with a fantastic sense of place. And the ending opens up great possibilities for another outing for Ash and his friends.

I received a copy of The Coffinmaker’s Garden from the publisher via Netgalley.
View The Coffinmaker’s Garden on Goodreads

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