Cross Purpose by Claire MacLeary

The Blurb On The Back:

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 …  

You can order Cross Purpose by Claire MacLeary from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Maggie Laird’s comfortable life in Mannofield (a suburb of Aberdeen) was rocked after her husband George resigned from the Scottish police force when an alleged failure by him and his partner, Jimmy Craigmyle to keep the tape running during the interview of an informant led to the collapse of the trial of a local criminal kingpin.  George set up his own private investigation company but money was tight – especially as their eldest daughter Kirsty is at university and their son, Colin, is at an expensive private school – and so Maggie returned to work part time as a teacher’s assistant at one of the rougher state schools.

And then George is found dead in his office and Maggie’s world is rocked again, not just because of the death of the man she loved but because she discovers now just how much financial trouble their family was in.  The only person she can turn to is her next door neighbour, Wilma Harcus, a blousy, big-hearted woman from the sink estate of Torry, who encourages Maggie to take over the PI business with Wilma’s help.

As the two women navigate the unfamiliar world of corporate investigations and divorce cases, Maggie realises that she can use the agency to clear George’s name.  But when the body of a female student is found in a graveyard, the women find themselves pulled into the investigation …

Claire MacLeary’s crime novel (the first in a series) is a disjointed affair whose plot skips about with little tension or connection, plot strands end in an unsatisfying way while the partnership between the two women is underdeveloped.  I liked MacLeary’s use of Scots dialect, which gives authenticity but the writing is technically lacking (including head-hopping between characters within scenes) such that I’m not interested in reading on.

I picked this up because I was interested in the set up – essentially, a middle-aged, middle-class woman being forced to find a new lease of life and forming a friendship with a louder, working class woman.  MacLeary also starts the book with Maggie determined to clear her husband’s name out of guilt at pressuring him to retire in order to keep his pension, rather than fight the accusations and potentially lose everything.  Had the book gone down that route, then I think it would have been a more interesting read but the moves to clear George’s name very much linger in the background, only coming to the fore when MacLeary decides to have either of the two women do something utterly ridiculous to advance it (a scene involving Wilma trying to extract a confession left me feeling really irritated).  

The lack of sense that the women show as they try to get to grips with the PI business particularly grated on me.  I didn’t need them to be able to do everything from the off but the lack of common sense that Maggie in particular displays (e.g. in surveillance techniques) kept throwing me out.  MacLeary also heavily relies on coincidence and contrivance in bringing in other plot strands (e.g. Maggie’s connection to a young boy turned drug runner) and the pacing of those plot strands is lacking, especially in the death of the girl, which is all over the place.

Wilma is very much the junior partner for the purposes of the plot here, which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential with her character.  Her background on the Torry gives her the kind of contacts and experiences that should complement the more naive Maggie but it never really comes good and the supposed friendship that grows between the women is little more than a handful of scenes where we’re told that they’re getting closer.  This is a shame because I wanted to see more of Wilma and her husband Ian and the hint of conflict with Maggie’s daughter, Kirsty, had a lot of scope.

On the plus side, I thought MacLeary’s use of Scots dialect was excellent as it gives a great sense of flavour and the dialogue between the young boys is well done.  I also found some of the scenes involving the drug dealer Fatboy had a real chill to them, although some of the later developments there were wasted.

The writing descends to head hopping at times, which kept throwing me out of scenes.  To be fair though, I was reading this on a Kindle app on my phone and I don’t think that the smaller pages particularly helped.

All in all, this book just didn’t work for me and I have to say that I won’t be reading on. 

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