CRIME writers are meant to surprise their readers, but with his latest novel, Aberdeen author Stuart MacBride surprised himself — by writing it at all.
A Song for the Dying is MacBride’s second novel set in the fictional town of Oldcastle and sees the return of former detective Ash Henderson. Yet the first Ash Henderson book, Birthdays for the Dead, was intended to be a one-off.
"But a lot of people began to wonder what happened next and I started to wonder too," he explained.
The Ash books are darker in tone than MacBride’s Inspector Logan McRae books, lacking even their black humour. They also feature a particularly grisly modus operandi for serial killer, The Inside Man, but McBride insisted this was not in the book purely for shock effect.
"I don’t go out to be the goriest thing that has ever been goried and think: how can I make this darker and nastier?" he said.
"It just seemed to make sense — and hopefully made things exciting."
The other big difference from the Logan books — and why Ash and Logan will never meet — is that the Logan books are set in the real city of Aberdeen. However, this does not necessarily mean that MacBride has more freedom when it comes to describing Oldcastle’s fictional geography.
"I’ve been writing about Oldcastle for years, but if I put something in a short story, even if it’s never been published, it’s there to this day," MacBride said.
"It started off being incredibly freeing because you could do whatever you liked, but now it’s become like any other town. It’s real because I’ve said it’s there."
Though he is not ruling out a return to Oldcastle, as he embarks on Logan book nine, MacBride returns to a much changed police force.
"The whole Police Scotland thing has made Logan’s world almost unrecognisable," he said.
"They never think of the writers when they do these things.
"The CID’s become a very different beast. They would investigate a huge range of crime, but now you have major investigation teams that take on murders. Then there are domestic violence teams, alcohol violence reduction teams and lots of different teams. If Logan was to investigate a murder, he probably couldn’t be part of CID any more. It’s all completely different."
Still, MacBride has been doing his homework on the new look force by joining police in the north-east as they carried out drug raids or went about their routine day and night shifts.
"If everybody had to spend a day shadowing a police officer, there would be a lot more understanding of what these guys have to put up with," MacBride said.
"Obviously you can’t use what you see directly, but you can use it for inspiration."
The Ash Henderson books are not the only break MacBride has taken from Logan and company.
He recently released children’s book Skeleton Bob, writing, illustrating and publishing it himself to raise money for the Million For a Morgue Campaign which will provide new forensic science facilities at Dundee University.
It may be for very young readers, but MacBride’s older fans might recognise the same dark humour of the Logan books.
"But it’s very innocent darkness," countered MacBride, who wrote the stories for his four year old nephew.
"It’s a lot of fun getting to sit down and play with paint again," he added. "It’s like being back at school."
• Stuart MacBride will be at Waterstones’ Eastgate branch in Inverness on Saturday 25th January at 12.30pm to sign copies of his latest novel, A Song for the Dying, published by Harper Collins.
Stuart MacBride will also appear at the second Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend over the 25th to 27th April, alongside Ian Rankin, Ann Cleeves, Lin Anderson and Alex Grey.