This, is quite simply, one of the best books I have read in a very long time. If I hadn’t already picked my 2016 Book of the Year, this may have won. Already, it’s a hugely strong contender for my 2017 pick for Book of the Year (and yes I know it’s the 3rd of January! It’s that good!).
The main reason, is of course, the writing; Maclean writes beautifully, wonderfully artistic descriptions that manage to be completely purposeful and grounded in character and plot, tempered with a wonderful use of pacing. She beautifully evokes the world and the characters that live in it – making her craft look absolutely effortless. Bitter Legacy is a mystery novel – a genre I rarely read, so I wasn’t sure how I’d take to this – but I was absolutely hooked from the get go.
Detective Sergeant James Henderson is, as the blurb puts it “gay, posh and eager to prove himself”, and a barrister has been murdered. Due to James’ continued rise through the ranks, he’s been put on the case, for the first time, as lead investigator.
But this book is not just about the case, although that fascinates with its twists and turns (and – without spoiling anything – a fascinatingly repulsive character in the last third of the book). Heir to a business empire, James gave it all up to do something that mattered, and also to be himself – the gay man that he is, not the straight business mogul his father expects. Since he started this new life, he’s been working all the hours he can, and living out of boxes in a tiny bedsit. He’s been looking for a new place, but given the competition in London, it’s been tough. And when the case and this collide, he ends up moving in with someone that was peripheral (and cleared) in the inquiries.
As the bodies build, so does James’ relationship with his new landlord, the charming, enigmatic photographer, Ben Morgan – who doesn’t do relationships, or love. A fiercely independent man, and staunch advocate of sexual freedom, when the very inexperienced James, who has never had a real relationship, falls for him, he falls hard.
There is a great supporting cast, richly and deftly drawn by Maclean – Steggie, the downstairs neighbour who “acts” in adult films, Ben’s extended circle of friends and ‘acquaintances’, James’ fellow police officers, and the victim’s families. The mystery and James and Ben’s relationship both progress with some great wrenches thrown in the mix; life, like their relationship, and the ever-expanding case, is not always clean and easy and Maclean entices you into this world in all of its messy glory. And her frankly enviably brilliant writing had me finish this book in a flash.
It was my first real brush with m/m or gay mystery, as opposed to m/m romance, and I’ll definitely be going in for more. I’m not going to give anything away about the plot, or even their relationship, but when I hit the last hundred pages, I basically abandoned my plans for the evening and curled up on the sofa, knowing I wasn’t going to stop until I’d finished.
This book is a stunning achievement – made even more impressive by the fact that this is Maclean’s first novel. With this one book, she has shot up into that rare cadre of authors whose books I automatically buy.
Also, despite there being a gay protagonist, I would heartily recommend this to any crime/thriller/mystery fans, of any orientation; it’s brilliantly done, and the case, and its unraveling is not just tacked onto the relationship, but is the real driving force of the book. So yes, in summation, everyone just read it!
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.