For a small press Five Leaves Publications packs a big punch. Their crime imprint is home to works by British noir stalwarts like Russel D McLean, Charlie Williams and Ray Banks. So Michael Malone’s debut novel Blood Tears is in very good company indeed. Blood Tears marks the start of a new police procedural series set in Glasgow and featuring DI Ray McBain, a man with more than his fair share of skeletons in the closet.
The book opens with a gruesome murder. An elderly man is found dead in his bachelor flat, restrained and tortured, his body bearing the marks of the stigmata. McBain is dragged from the bed of his married lover to investigate and quickly it emerges that the victim had links to Bethlehem House, the Catholic orphanage where McBain spent a miserable childhood dogged by physical abuse and emotional neglect. Caught between professional ethics and personal demons McBain makes a decision which will come to threaten his career and ultimately his life; he conceals his link to Bethlehem House and the victim, hoping to use his intimate knowledge of the place to find the killer.
Secrets have a way of coming to light, though, and once his superiors discover McBain’s involvement they jump on him as prime suspect. There’s a logic to their assumptions – an abused boy is likely to go after his tormentors as an adult and all the other alumni of Bethlehem House carry scars, so why would McBain be any different? With the help of a few loyal compatriots McBain escapes from custody and pursues the killer on the wrong side of the law, digging into the half-formed memories and recurrent nightmares of his childhood to try and unearth the truth. The dreams are getting worse. Violent, blood-soaked images haunt him and he begins to suspect that he might actually be responsible.
Blood Tears is a banging debut. The subject matter is dark, real ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, and so much more affecting for that. It’s written in urgent, pacy prose and sharp dialogue shot through with the kind of gallows humour you want from fictional coppers. The secondary characters are well realised, with hints of some interesting back stories to come out in later instalments and they already feel like a solid unit – a rare thing in new police procedurals. It’s a tough ask, coming up with a new detective, but Malone has created genuinely attractive lead in Ray McBain. Credible and intriguingly flawed without, he’s a character you feel confident will only grow as the series continues.
Scotland has produced some amazing crime writers over the years and on the basis of Blood Tears Michael Malone looks set to join the top ranks. If you’re already a fan of Rankin, Black or MacBride, you’ll love this book.