Written by TF Muir — St Andrews is headquarters of the Royal and Ancient and the home of golf. Obviously, it is a sedate, peaceful place where the only sound to be heard is the smacking of golf balls and the occasional muttered curse from someone stuck in a bunker. In short, St Andrews is the epitome of genteel. Or so I thought, until I read The Meating Room! Forget the gray menace of Glasgow or the eerie lawlessness of Edinburgh, St Andrews is right up there with the worst of them thanks to TF Muir. Believe me, DCI Andy Gilchrist has his work cut out to keep the peace here. We run the gamut of criminal activity, with mutilated dead bodies, alleged rapes, fearful witnesses and even a hit and run.
It opens as an elderly woman walking her dog in the woods finds a car containing an apparent suicide victim. The body is swiftly identified as Brian McCullough, a local lad made good. No-one has a bad word to say about him, but when Gilchrist and his partner DS Jessie Janes arrive at the McCullough home, they find a scene of carnage. Although his two children are lying dead in their beds, it is a different story for their mother, who has been beheaded and disembowelled – and her head and several other parts of her body, including a large section of skin, have been taken from the scene. (Phew. You might want to take a moment now to catch your breath, and keep your lunch down.)
A murder/suicide then? Gilchrist isn’t so sure. Brian McCullough was neatly dressed and the scarf used to block the front window of his unlocked car was inserted from the outside. But if it was murder, who could have had a motive? And what sort of psychopath would mutilate a woman in such a sadistic and twisted manner? Even more worryingly, Gilchrist is certain the killer has struck before.
First in the frame is Brian McCullough’s business partner, Thomas Magner, who is already under investigation for a series of alleged rapes from 30 years ago. There are 15 women lined up ready to give evidence against him in court… until, suddenly, one by one they begin to doubt their memory and withdraw. Eventually only five are prepared to go the distance with the case. Then one is killed in a hit and run accident, and there are reasons to believe that Magner’s car was involved. The trouble is, Magner has alibis for everything, and was even captured on CCTV at the hotel he claimed to be in at the time. Janes and Gilchrist are convinced he is lying through his teeth, but how can they catch him out?
The plot is densely women and dark, with occasional hints of lighter grey when we get a glimpse of life outside the job. The two detective characters are first class when it comes to police work, but their personal lives leave a lot to be desired. Both have been involved in affairs and are now living to regret it. The story strand serves to take the pressure off for short spells, but after a breather you are soon pulled back into the maelstrom of blood and violence.
The Meating Room is Gilchrist’s fifth outing but is the first I’ve read. It works fine as a stand alone story – I never felt at a disadvantage for not having read the previous four books. It is dark, grisly and gripping and will certainly appeal to fans of contemporary crime thrillers cum police procedurals. It may be a little near the knuckle for some tastes though with the killer using such a gory modus operandi, and is likely to have you cringing at times. I’ll certainly never see St Andrews in the same light again.
The Meating Room is released on 18 September.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars