Crime Fiction Alphabet: A is for Absolution

In a new weekly meme Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise asks us to write a blog post about the letter of the week. I thought I’d use the meme to highlight books I enjoyed before I started keeping this blog. I’ve kept ratings for years and kept reading notes in odd places including Good Reads for a while before I started this blog so I should be able to keep participating in this meme.

This week’s letter is A and I’ve decided to talk about Scottish author Caro Ramsay’s first novel, Absolution, which was published in 2007.

The story opens when PC Alan McAlpine returns to work after a family tragedy and is rostered to hospital duty to wait for the awakening of a young woman who lies near death after being the victim of a horrific acid attack. McAlpine is soon obsessed by the woman and even after discovering what led to her predicament he continues to fantasize about her. The novel then leaps forward 20 years and McAlpine is a Detective Inspector who investigating a series of brutal killings

The opening passages of this book are some of the most moving I have read, in any kind of genre, and perfectly sparked my interest in both the story to come and getting to know McAlpine. Ramsay’s writing is wonderfully descriptive and evocative of the time and place. She builds the suspense well and the ending fits logically with the events that went before it which is not always the case with crime fiction these days. There is a thread that I found awkward and unnecessary from a plot development point of view (the car crash) but I can easily forgive this in a book with so much else to recommend it.

One of the more interesting aspects of this particular reading experience is that I enjoyed the book despite the fact I grew to despise the protagonist Alan McAlpine. I suspect readers are supposed to feel sympathetic towards him but I found him totally self-absorbed and hated the way he treats his wife and friends with utter contempt much of the time. In fact I found it a bit of a stretch that everyone around such a person would universally put up with his poor treatment of them, cover for his drunken mistakes and generally ignore the fact he’s a selfish ingrate but I guess it does happen. Happily for the good citizens of Glasgow the dogged and devoted Colin Anderson and smart, courageous Winifred Costello are available to do some actual police work. Likeable or not though, all the characters are well constructed and nicely multi-dimensional.

Ramsay has a new book out this year called Singing to the Dead. It features Colin Anderson who I very much enjoyed in Absolution so I’ve added this one to my wishlist.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I normally direct readers to an author’s website but Ramsay’s is seriously out of date and virtually devoid of useful content. I discussed back in February the fact that large chunks of the publishing industry seem to ignore the internet as a legitimate marketing tool or, worse, treat it with contempt (what else would you call a ‘blog’ with one post written in 2007?).

This entry was posted in Caro Ramsay, Crime Fiction Alphabet, memes and challenges, mini review, Scotland. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Crime Fiction Alphabet: A is for Absolution

  1. Thanks for highlighting this book. I haven’t read Ramsey yet, but this one sounds interesting! I know what you mean about not liking the protagonist; I’ve read books like that, too. Still, it sounds absolutely engrossing.


  2. Kerrie says:

    I’ve had a Ramsay book on the TBR occasionally Bernadette but somehow not read it – probably because it had ot go back to the library unread. Sounds a good one to find again. I agree with the frustrations about negelected web sites.


  3. Maxine says:

    I read this book recently (on holiday, I think) but did not like it as much as you. I agree the start was good, ut for some reason I knew immediately who the baddie was at his first appearance, so I spent most of the book wondering why it wasn’t obvious to everyone else! I found the police procedural aspects unrealistic – I can’t remember the details now, but I think that various members of the team don’t communicate with each other about what they are finding (for no particular reason) and do not put up pictures of witnesses/victims on the wall in the office so therefore certain connections are not made – something along those lines that I felt was a flaw. I also thought the climax was flawed in a similar way (as well as the usual “person putting themselves into isolated peril with no mobile phone….”). I agree the book has potential – it was a strange structure, having the main policeman as the tortured guy who wasn’t able to relate emotionally, etc — I gather that the two detectives (one female one male) form the main characters in future novels, so maybe their characters will gel more than they did for me in Absolution, and the novels will improve. I’ll look forward to reading your review of the next one to see if I might give it a try.
    The author was at both Crime Fests I attended, and seems extremly nice and articulate. I hope the publisher updates her website soon.


  4. Beth F says:

    This looks fun. I’ll be watching for your posts. I’m in an A-Z Wednesday meme and have been doing the same as you — doing mini-reviews of recommended books from pre-blogging days.


  5. bernadetteinoz says:

    Maxine I hate it when that happens (working out the culprit so early and wondering why no one else can spot the bleeding obvious).


  6. Belle says:

    I read this one early last year, in my pre-blogging days, too! I thought it was off to a good start, but like you, I ended up really disliking McAlpine. And I did exactly what Maxine did – as soon as the bad guy showed up, I thought it was him, and it seemed so obvious that I alternated between wondering why no-one else noticed the obviousness of it and thinking that maybe there was some really nice twisty thing coming up and I was wrong. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any twisty thing and I’d been right all along. But I did think the novel was well-written. I didn’t realize the author had a second novel out – I remember quite liking Colin Anderson, so I will probably give the new novel a go.


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