Burnout by Claire MacLeary

Review published on September 11, 2018.

Burnout is the follow-up novel to Cross Purpose and its an outstanding example of how to write a sequel. All the elements that made the first novel enjoyable are here but MacLeary has ramped things up a little. Burnout explores the complexity of the relationships between the characters first seen in Cross Purpose and their experience in the context of this new story. The novel is about domestic abuse and the clever blending of several stories opens up different perspectives on the issue providing real insight and it’s all delivered within the framework of a gripping and entertaining thriller. This is a psychological novel but a very grounded one, this is the real world – experiences sadly many will recognise. I dare you not to like, perhaps even admire, Maggie and Wilma, Aberdeen private investigators.

The story so far: Widow Maggie Laird, mother of two, is trying to cope following the sudden death of her private eye husband George. She forms a bond with her neighbour, Wilma, a ballsy working class powerhouse. The two women transform their very ordinary suburban lives by taking over George’s private detective agency. George left the police force under a cloud when a drugs case collapsed, Maggie is fighting to clear his name, George had secrets and debts. She had to deal with shady Gilruth over the back rent to avoid ‘something nasty’ happening. Maggie and Wilma struggle to get a case until seventeen-year-old student Lucy Simmons is raped and murdered (assaulted with a makeshift cross). After a lot of strife with the police and some nasty criminals they manage to help solve the case and start uncovering evidence to prove George was innocent. When Maggie needs support Wilma gives her that reason to keep going.

At the start of Burnout, both women are a bit sick of domestic cases, the bills still need paying though. The investigation into George’s case is stalled, Sergeant Burnett is moving on from his fascination for Maggie and Inspector Chisholm is still angry at her interference in police matters. Maggie is working as a teaching assistant to bring in an extra few quid and Wilma’s husband still doesn’t like her mixing with the stuck up neighbour.

Maggie agrees to meet Sheena Struther, she thinks her husband is trying to kill her. She has no real evidence, no real story to tell, but Maggie is convinced she’s scared. Sheena won’t go to the police or talk to a lawyer for fear of the scandal, the Struthers have a position and reputation to maintain. When Maggie takes the case Wilma thinks she’s mad, the woman is clearly delusional. After a few days following Gordon Struther Maggie realises he is a faithful husband with no crazy spending habits; it’s all about work, golf and social functions with his wife. Is Sheena paranoid, maybe menopausal? Or is something darker going on? When Sheena winds up in hospital fighting for her life suspicion falls on her husband? There are a couple of clever twists here, things are not quite what they seem, so much is going on below the surface.

Maggie has taken a liking to Ros, a teacher at the school she works in. As their friendship develops and Ros confides in her. Ros is married to Nic and the relationship is toxic. Meanwhile, events also lead back to George’s case and the possibility that the truth will finally out.

The first novel in the series gave us a nice mix of the domestic life and detective work. That has been developed here, the relationships with the children and particularly the friction between Wilma and her husband over the detective agency come to life. All the strands of the story deal with different aspects of domestic abuse from the initial subtle put downs to the out right take over of another person’s life and the creation of the impression that it the victim’s fault. This is all brilliantly realised, MacLeary really gets the psychological manipulation and violence of the abusive relationship (genuinely understanding the victim). Maggie and Wilma remain a formidable pair, likeable and real. All set in Aberdeen, the two women live in a run down neighbourhood. A judicious use of the Aberdeen brogue gives the story that Highland flavour.

MacLeary has come up with a really interesting take on the buddy partnership. This thriller will appeal to people who don’t generally go for the genre and fans alike. Cross Purpose was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2017.

Paul Burke 4/4

Burnout by Claire MacLeary
Contraband 9781912235117 pbk Mar 2018

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