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by Stephen Leather
Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, June 2013
488 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444742647

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

NIGHTSHADE sees the return of former police hostage negotiator turned private investigator, Jack Nightingale. Things have moved on from the events of the preceding trilogy and little reference is made to it. Hardly surprising, as NIGHTMARE very effectively set the clock back on much of what happened to Nightingale in the previous books, much like the infamous shower scene in Dallas. Nightingale's continuing to scrape a living by following husbands suspected of cheating on their wives or checking up on cheating employees, but something is about to happen that will drag him out of his more mundane cases and throw him into a far more dangerous investigation.

Like most of Stephen Leather's books, NIGHTSHADE gets off to a good, albeit shocking, start, when farmer Jimmy McBride goes on a killing spree in a school in Berwick-upon-Tweed, moving methodically from classroom to classroom, choosing his targets seemingly at random, leaving eight children and one teacher dead before he turns the shotgun on himself under the eyes of the police armed response team who don't have to fire a single shot themselves. It's a neat and tidy end to a horrific incident. When the police go to his isolated farm they find evidence of an unhealthy interest in Satanic practices on his computer and a black magic altar complete with a goat's head and Satanic symbols. It's more than enough to explain why McBride went so spectacularly off the rails. Or is it?

McBride's brother thinks there was more to his brother's death than a simple case of murder-suicide. He wants to engage Nightingale's services, telling him firstly that his brother's computer wasn't even connected to the internet and secondly that the Satanic altar hadn't been in the barn two days before the shooting. From the outset, it's clear that Nightingale's presence in Berwick isn't welcomed by anyone, least of all the police and as usual, he's quickly up to his neck in problems.

Entwined with all this is the story of Bella Harper, abducted and abused by a vicious paedophile and his girlfriend, and finally strangled and drowned in a bath just as the police find her, but she then miraculously revives as the paramedics arrive on the scene. The problem with this part of the plot is that any narrative tension has already very effectively been dispelled by the short prologue that telegraphs later events by practically bouncing up and down and waving a placard with the story details on, doing nothing to dispel my dislike of prologues in general and this one in particular.

NIGHTSHADE moves along at a reasonable pace, but I'm afraid that Leather seems to wallow too much in gory and unpleasant detail. It's an unremittingly grim tale in all respects that offers almost no one any hope or comfort amidst the almost gratuitous nastiness, and frankly I found the whole plot involving the abducted child simply too grim, colouring my view of the book as a whole. You'll need a strong stomach to enjoy Leather's latest offering.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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