A murder investigation frozen in time is beginning to melt… November 1933. Scotland is in the grip of the coldest winter in living memory and the Lake of Menteith is frozen over. A young man and woman walk across the ice to the historic island of Inchmahome which lies in the middle of the lake. Only the man comes back. In the spring, as staff prepare the abbey ruins for summer visitors, they discover the unidentifiable remains of the body of a girl, her skull violently crushed.
Present day. Retired detective Alan Narey is still haunted by the unsolved crime. Desperate to relieve her father’s conscience, DS Rachel Narey returns to the Lake on Menteith and unofficially reopens the cold case. With the help of police photographer Tony Winter, Rachel discovers that the one man her father had always suspected was the killer has recently died. Risking her job and reputation, Narey prepares a dangerous gambit to uncover the killer’s identity – little knowing who that truly is. Despite the freezing temperatures, the ice-cold case begins to thaw, and with it a tide of secrets long frozen in time is suddenly and shockingly unleashed.
Despite my penchant for Scandicrime, I rarely read British crime fiction, classic or modern, so I was interested to see what Craig Robertson had to offer in Cold Grave. The cover is very striking, in black, white and blues, plus it’s set in Glasgow, somewhere I’ve visited, so my first impressions were good. I was also intrigued by the story synopsis, as the crime in question was a ‘cold case’ – I was hoping for lots of mystery and intrigue.
By the end of the book, I wasn’t disappointed, as I found the story had good pace, plenty of action set in and around the seedier sides of ‘Glesga’ as well as up in the Highlands, and some quirky, interesting characters, particularly Tony Winter. Whereas Rachel, nominally the protagonist, is sketched a little thinly, I got a really strong impression of Tony, with his ghoulish delight in gory crime scenes and his photographs of the best deaths he’d snapped displayed in his spare room.
Initially, however, I wasn’t grabbed. The book starts a little slowly for my liking; there is a prologue which sets up the disappearance of the girl, but I felt perhaps it could have been a little more sinister, and when we then meet Rachel and Tony in the next chapter, I found them, at first, a bit bland. They appear to be off on a weekend away, there’s a lot of focus on issues in their relationship which then seem to be forgotten about, and there was something about the dialogue between them that didn’t always ring true. This was something I noticed occasionally throughout the book, in fact. I didn’t always feel the characters had distinctive ‘voices’, and every so often there was a little bit of Dan-Brown-esque telling of information that just didn’t strike me as the way in which people really speak. I could be wrong, of course – before he became a novelist, Robertson was a journalist for 20 years with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, so he’s probably had more experience with Scottish detective sergeants than I have.
Am I glad that I kept reading, though? Overall yes; once the wheels of the plot were turning at full speed, Cold Grave was a fun read for the summer holidays – I can imagine reading this on a lounger by the pool, basking in the sunshine while getting my teeth into the grimy, icy action. This is a book on enjoy on its own merits; it’s not poetic literary prose, although it’s full of fascinating descriptions of blood, but it’s a pacey, well-plotted cop-drama, and sometimes that’s good enough.