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British Mysteries

Flesh House, Stuart MacBride, St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95.

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

I consider Stuart MacBride to be one of the top emerging writers of the past several years. What I most enjoy about his books is their mixture of the commonplace and the horrific, the contrast of the every day lives of the Aberdeen policeman Logan McRae and his cohorts with the despicable crimes they must confront. Like cops everywhere, the Aberdeen force uses quite a bit of mordant black humor in order to maintain their sanity, and it's this element, served up with a dram of classic Scotch irony and understatement, that makes MacBride's work so appealing.

MacBride's first three books were all excellent, but in his latest, Flesh House, he turns the amplifier up to eleven. The amplification is not so much in the private lives part—Logan's love life is in its usual state of chaos, as is the hair of his superior, D. I. Steel, this time characterized as resembling "an electrocuted badger." Logan's other boss, however, the choleric, candy loving D. I. Insch, suffers serious repercussions from the misdeeds of his past in the case of a notorious criminal known as "The Flesher."

It's with this villain that Flesh House really rocks out. Cannibalism has long been one of civilization's greatest taboos, and the chance discovery of a little "long pork" in the commercial food chain is enough to send shock waves throughout the whole of Scotland. But that revelation is just the beginning of many horrors to come, provided by a diabolically clever maniac in a butcher's apron and Margaret Thatcher mask.

MacBride sustains his mastery all the way through the jaw dropping, ingeniously audacious climax and coda. Though strong meat (so to speak) for some readers, Flesh House is one of the best books of the year, a wicked combination of Donald Westlake's deadpan wit and Thomas Harris's infernal ingenuity.

There's even a penultimate twist—when I discussed this grisly book with MacBride at the Bouchercon, he was most interested in showing me the picture of his cat which appears in the mock newspaper on page forty-three! (Jamie)

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