Two Women, One Quest, Grave Consequences
When Maggie Laird's disgraced ex-cop husband suddenly dies, her humdrum suburban life is turned upside down. With the bills mounting, she takes on his struggling detective agency, enlisting the help of neighbour ‘Big Wilma’. And so an unlikely partnership is born.
But the discovery of a crudely mutilated body soon raises the stakes... and Maggie and Wilma are drawn into an unknown world of Aberdeen's sink estates, clandestine childminding and dodgy dealers.
Cross Purpose is surprising, gritty, sometimes darkly humorous – a tale combining police corruption, gangs and murder with a paean to friendship, loyalty and how ‘women of a certain age’ can beat the odds.
Maggie Laird is grieving and at her wit’s end. Her husband, a former police officer has passed. She’s in debt and struggling to cope with life. Two children, one at Uni, one a teenage son living at home and some heavies knocking on the door for overdue payments for the rent due on her late husband’s business premises.
Enter larger than life, Wilma her feisty neighbour. Wilma suggests Maggie continues with her husband’s business, a down on its heels – detective agency. How else is she going to earn some money? And Wilma dangles the carrot of focussing some of their energies on restoring her husband’s good name. George Laird had resigned from the police force under a cloud after a trial collapsed when a witness perjured himself and made Laird and his partner look like chumps, alleging corruption.
I found the prospect of Maggie and Wilma, taking up a detective agency and running with it slightly implausible, though in truth so did Maggie to begin with. Wilma convinces her and with baby steps initially they get the show on the road. I did warm to this odd couple.
There are several strands to the plot. Maggie is trying to find the perjuring witness from her husband’s trial, who has gone to ground. She has a hard-on for the debt collector’s boss, a shady character with his hands in a few pies and who the police haven’t touched. His masquerading as a successful businessman seems to be fooling some. And there are some kids who Maggie is worried about. She’s a part-time teaching assistant and fears some of her charges are going down the wrong path and acting as drug runners. We spend plenty of time in the company of a lonely teenage drug-dealer Fatboy and his little gang of wannabees. The mutilated corpse body of a young student adds to the mix.
I loved the setting of Aberdeen. It’s a difficult environment for some - the high rise flats, no jobs or ambition, drug use and drug dealing, kids with no fear or concern for the police, dodgy baby-sitters on benefits, absent parents – never present or now locked up. I don’t think MacLeary will be getting a call from the local tourist board anytime soon. There’s plenty of local vernacular in the dialogue, most of which I understood. It did add a layer of authenticity to the mix, without bewildering this reader.
Great characters, a warm tale of a developing friendship, the dealing with grief and the getting on with life, the depiction of the social problems faced by some of the poorer elements of society and the loneliness of our young drug dealer. All elements which left an impression.
The separate strands storylines link up well and give a cohesive structure to the plot in my opinion, but I was slightly less convinced by the outcome. The end result was a little bit twee for me I’m afraid.
Overall very enjoyable. Another author for me to keep an eye out for in future.
4 from 5
Cross Purpose is the debut novel from Claire MacLeary and has been long-listed for the McIlvanney Prize (Bloody Scotland's crime novel of the year).
You can find Claire on Twitter - @
Read in June, 2017
Published - 2017
Page count - 362
Source - review copy from publisher Saraband Books
Format - paperback