Driftnet by Lin Anderson

Luath, 2003, 256 p. One of the Scotsman’s 20 Best Scottish Books.

Driftnet cover

Yet another crime novel on one of these “best of Scottish books” lists. Set mainly in Glasgow the chief viewpoint character is Forensic Scientist Rhona MacLeod but many scenes are seen through the eyes of others. The case involves the murder of a teenager – with a startling resemblance to Rhona – who is apparently a rent boy.

Anderson’s writing is fine enough but to my mind there were several factors which marred the reading experience. Typical of the protagonists in such novels Rhona has relationship problems but here her backstory is far too convoluted. Granted, it helps to progress the plot but it all felt too contrived, too neat, too enmeshed. Another flaw was that the murderer is easily identified on his first appearance. Anderson tries to finesse the point but that only succeeds in making Rhona look too naïve – or stupid. (Her realisation earlier than she does would have made for a shorter book though, and less jeopardy for others.) Also far too many of the characters are connected to the murderer’s orbit. It stretches belief beyond credibility for so many to be so close to the perpetrator. I thought that the description of the criminal ring he is a part of as containing paedophiles – while probably correct in a legal sense – skirts on the margins of that definition; at least on the evidence of their victims as presented here. For a tale supposedly centred round a Forensic Scientist too little time is spent in the lab; there are only really two instances of any forensic detail.

This may not technically be a detective novel – even if DI Bill Wilson is given several viewpoint scenes – but the function of such a story is to set the world back on an even keel. In Driftnet that does not happen – which may be truer to life but does not provide the sense of satisfaction that the form demands. Another serious misstep was Rhona’s moment of release on the third last page which wasn’t justified by any of the foregoing and is only there to provide a spurious sense of uplift.

I did scoot through it in two nights reading, though.

Pedant’s corner:- flate (flat,) Connolly (elsewhere is Connelly,) form teacher (Scots do not use the word form in this sense; register teacher would be the equivalent term,) “when half the population of the street was in the pub and the other half were at the bingo” (half the street is singular and the other half plural? [A half, being smaller than 1, can never be plural],) zipper (the British term is zip, which is used later,) benificently (beneficently,) Sir James’ (Sir James’s,) “she sat down on the sofa to wait. back. She wanted …” (????) paracetemol (x 3 but the correct “paracetamol” once,) “Chrissy wanted looked at Neil willing him to agree” (wanted looked?) “‘and find out what happening’” (what’s happening.)

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