Review: Blood Runs Cold by Alex Barclay

Title: Blood Runs Cold

Author: Alex Barclay

Publisher: Harper [2008]

ISBN: 978-0-00-726844-3

Ren Bryce is the female FBI Agent put in charge of the investigation into the death of fellow agent Jean Transom whose body is discovered on the snow-covered mountains of Colorado. The body is subsequently lost in an avalanche but the investigation continues with Bryce heading up a team of agents and local law enforcement professionals in the small town of Breckenridge. Without a body or any easily identifiable reason for the death they must dig into Transom’s background to find out what led to her death.

I ordered myself a copy of this book after hearing it discussed on Simon Mayo’s Books Panel late last year. I don’t remember what it was that the reviewers said that made me rush to Book Depository and I’ve long since deleted the podcast episode from my iPod. So I don’t now know what they saw in the book but, whatever it was, completely passed me by.

Ren Bryce is immature, unprofessional, paranoid, whiny and completely unbelievable as an agent. Towards the end of the book a vague hint is made as to what might have possessed her to be an alcoholic who sleeps with all the wrong people but by then I no longer cared enough about her to forgive any of her foibles. I don’t know if I’d have felt differently had she been given a better background earlier in the piece. The rest of the characters, of which there are far too many given the scant attention paid to most of them, are two-dimensional, near-misogynist men who are equally unbelievable in the roles cast for them.

The story is not much better. It drones on for nearly 500 meandering pages almost entirely devoid of plot development (90% of which happens in the first 50 pages and the last 75). The rest are full of introspective, paranoid ramblings by the protagonist that are so annoyingly out of context that what story threads do exist are easily dropped. Although ostensibly it’s about the death of the FBI agent there’s another crime badly wedged into the book to make it even more disjointed and complex. Apparently Ms Barclay doesn’t write chronologically and, frankly, it shows.

I can’t decide if this was a valiant, if failed, attempt to take the genre somewhere new or just plain bad. All I know is I didn’t like it. At all.

My rating 1/5

Related stuff

Review at Euro Crime (who liked it much more than I did)

Review in The Guardian (who didn’t)

Interview of Alex Barclay at Crime Always Pays

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