The Devil Stone by Caro Ramsay book review
Brian Hannan, local author and manager at Abbey Books in Paisley reviews The Devil Stone by Caro Ramsay.
After 13 novels headed by the crime-busting team of Anderson and Costello, Paisley novelist Caro Ramsay has abandoned her usual Glasgow beat and headed up the west coast and surpassed herself with the debut of DCI Christine Caplan in The Devil Stone. Except Christine has been demoted for losing evidence and is sent to investigate the death of five members of a wealthy landowning family. But what at first offers redemption or at least temporary escape soon takes on aspects of a carefully calculated trap.
Ramsay deftly switches the cliché of the cop family in peril. Caplan’s family’s problems jeopardise her job, husband in a seven-year depression, son hooked on drugs and emptying her bank account. To complicate matters, Caplan, an adulteress, is also on a charge of killing a cyclist, and the cop initially in charge of the quintuple murder case has disappeared.
Suspects are not hard to find, the two drug-addled neds who found the bodies first in that particular queue. But as the corpses mount up, and a multi-million-pound inheritance is on offer, a new deadly drug invades the streets, and Satanic and ecological forces are at work, Caplan finds herself enmeshed in one mystery too many, especially as her colleagues appear untrustworthy at best, corrupt at worst.
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The author stands out not just for the ability to conjure up a brilliant mystery but for her considerable skill in evoking fascinating characters. Eternal plod DC Craigo, the butt of office jokes, turns out to have more insight than expected, but being a local of longstanding could have secret alliances. Toni Mackie is the opposite, dressing as if “going off on a hen night,” but able to strike up an instant support with people Caplan is trying to assess.
The Allanach Foundation, to which the mystery unerringly moves, profit-minded ecological group, headed by the mysterious Magus, is not quite the dark cult you might expect with men taking advantage of vulnerable women and it’s refreshing to find such an organisation described in such attractive terms, where there is no dictatorial rule, nor the whole applecart likely to be upset by otherworldly principles. Rapturous blonde Blossom, missing heir Adam, and a complex web of inheritance and property introduce a different dynamic.
Assailed on all sides, it’s lucky Caplan is professional enough to keep to the matter in hand, unaware whether her female boss is friend or foe, sometimes she appears both at once. Ambitious women, it appears, are no less tricky than ambitious men. The public, too, can be venal, collaborating in fabricating evidence. Police infighting and incompetence damages the ability to get a result. Caplan’s not just an outsider in a closed shop of a town, but everyone knows why she fell from grace.
Police procedurals rely for their authenticity on keeping up with new techniques and here I was introduced to the Eviscan, a German creation that can detect latent fingerprints, as well as the usual cut and thrust of forensics.
There are perhaps more threads to get on top of than with an established series, as the author sets up a different locale and an intriguing cast of characters and breathless mixture of possibilities, but once it all starts to dovetail and the tension ratches up it’s an irresistible read and fans will be avid to discover who makes the cut for Book Two of what looks like a new series.
The Devil Stone was selected by The Times newspaper as its Crime Book of the Month. Caro Ramsay has been a bestselling crime author for 15 years, starting off with Absolution (2007). Her books are published in several languages and her work has been hailed in The Herald, Publishers Weekly and The Kirkus Review. She has been the subject of a BBC documentary, shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association New Dagger Award and nominated for the McIlvanney Prize.
Copies of the new book are on sale at Abbey Books in Wellmeadow Street in Paisley but you will also find it at Waterstones and on Amazon and Kindle. Brian Hannan is the manager of Abbey Books, follow on Facebook.