Stuart MacBride is the author of several bestselling novels featuring DS Logan McRae including Shatter the Bones which reached no 1 on the Sunday Times Bestseller list. The Logan McRae series has already sold over 1.1 million copies. MacBride is a multiple-award winning author, whose profile is continuing to ascend. More recently he undertook a literary crime tour for BBC Radio 4’s Open Book and he continues to work with the forensic society researching his novels, and is involved in all manner of speaking events in his native Scotland.
DM: Close to the Bone is first and foremost a crime novel, yet the themes it engages with (occult rituals, witch-hunters, and madness) draw heavily from horror. What influenced you to write a book about a serial-killing witch hunter in contemporary Scotland?
SM: For me there’s very little difference between really good crime fiction and really good horror. They both speak to a very primitive, deep-seated hollow in the human psyche that we’ve been filling with stories since we first gathered around the fire, at the back of the cave, trying to keep the darkness out. I love a well-written horror novel just as much as I did when I was eleven.
SM: I always like to treat my antagonists in exactly the same way as every other character in the books – they have to have reasons behind what they’re doing. Those reasons might seem twisted and weird from the outside, but to them they have to make perfect sense. My belief is that we’re all capable of doing monstrous things, it’s just a question of whether or not we can justify doing them to ourselves. Serial killers don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know what? Today, I’m going to be really, really evil! That’ll be nice for a change.” They do what they do because it makes sense to them and they can justify their actions. And the same thing is true of every atrocity ever committed.
SM: It’s a happy accident and comes from treating all the characters as real people. Police officers aren’t the slab-faced bastions of justice they’re often portrayed to be. They’re just like you and me. They do good work, they occasionally screw up, and they make fun of each other. I’ve worked in teams my whole adult life (well… until I became a writer) and humour was always a big part of the team dynamic. And the worse things got, the bleaker the prognosis, the darker the jokes became. I just applied that to the characters in the books. It’s there, because that’s what real people do.
SM: I’d been wanting to write a proper noir tale for years. The whole ‘Tartan Noir’ label is pretty meaningless in terms of a distinct writing style; it’s just a marketing term for any crime novel written in Scotland. But real noir has some pretty exacting rules, and Birthdays was my attempt to follow those. Which is why it’s as dark and as oppressive as it is. Someone recently told me it was more of a Shakespearian tragedy than noir, but I’m still pretty happy at the way it turned out. As for the follow up, there has to be hope for Ash, because if he’s got nothing to hope for, he’s got nothing to lose. And if he’s got nothing to lose, I can’t take it away from him…