The Glasgow Smile by Chris Stuart Review

Chris Stuart’s The Glasgow Smile is a captivating read with profound and relatable human elements.

The Glasgow Smile by New Zealand author Chris Stuart, is the sequel to her debut crime thriller, For Reasons of Their Own, which garnered her the prestigious Ngaio Marsh Best First Novel Award in 2021. It thrilled me to receive an advance copy of The Glasgow Smile and I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with some familiar characters and meeting some new ones.

The Glasgow Smile Publisher’s Synopsis

In a grimy graffiti-covered recess in one of Melbourne tangled inner city laneways, a woman is found murdered. ‘Why would anyone want to kill her? She was so ordinary,’ was the oft-repeated phrase DI Robbie Gray heard when the name of the deceased was revealed.

So why, then, she asked herself, was the body found propped up in such an extraordinary position, almost as if she was intimate with the portrait on the wall. Was this death intended to be symbolic, or was the placement merely a device to deceive?

Set against a background of civil unrest and rising white extremism, a government tainted by corruption and a family desperate to hide secrets, DI Robbie Gray, along with her Indigenous officer Mac must also grapple with their own demons of guilt and failure.  When an arrest is made, they realise that not all killers hold a weapon, masks don’t always disguise, and the legacy of long-held secrets can have tragic consequences.

Original Sin Press (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Thrillers

Chris Stuart | Pub Date May 28, 2023 | ISBN 9780473667528 | 464 pages

Book Review

We take up where we left off from the first book in the series with our heroine Melbourne Detective Inspector Robbie Gray, still working in the cold case unit. But not for long.

A passerby finds the body of a murdered young woman kneeling in a dingy alleyway as if praying with her forehead pressed against a street art portrait of a maniacal grinning figure. DS Hardiman, Gray’s boss, assigns her to lead the homicide investigation because she is the only qualified homicide investigator available. With civil arrest on the boil in Melbourne, Hardiman, pleading a staff-storage, only gives DI Gray a team of trainee detectives to staff the investigation. But she gets one experienced officer to help with the case, Aboriginal Detective Constable Phillip (Mac) MacMahon, a former colleague and close friend.

After identifying the victim, Annie Dallimore, DI Gray starts the investigation rolling with the usual police procedural moves; reviewing the autopsy, background checks on the victim to identify family members and close acquaintances, and then conducting interviews. The investigation gets off to a slow start, but picks up steam when Gray and Mac interview the victim’s family members and acquaintances. She compiles a list of persons of interest but feels frustrated when she can’t establish a credible motive for any of them and the police can’t locate the unusual murder weapon. Making things even more difficult is the victim’s dysfunctional family members all tell conflicting stories about the victim, and some seem bent on lying during the interviews.

Stuart shows an excellent understanding of police homicide investigation protocols and the story smacks of authenticity. As one who has visited the city, I can also attest she provides accurate and familiar descriptions of Melbourne and its surrounds. Cold weather and frequent drought-ending downpours dog DI Gray’s steps from beginning to the end of the investigation, which contribute to the satisfying elements of sinister foreboding surrounding the tale.

Besides having to solve a murder, DI Gray must also battle personal demons, not all of her own making. She is not only dealing with the aftermath of the breakup with her ex-lover Tess, but must also once again try to save her drug addict daughter, Emma, who seems bent of self-destruction. These underlying humanity aspects of the story help the reader delve ever deeper into Robbie Gray’s character.

While Robbie Gray is one of the more intriguing protagonists I’ve encountered, I also like her colleague, Mac. He, too, is a multi-faceted character fighting demons of his own, the stress of which causes him deep emotional pain. One highlight of the book for me was Mac’s story, and the challenges he faces as an Australian Aboriginal, something I’m keenly interested in. This element added great depth and heart to the novel, and Gray’s moral reactions to Mac’s circumstances helped us learn more about her. Stuart gives us a good taste of the realities in that respect, but not at such length that it allowed the tension of the story to wane. The only slight let down for me, was Mac had such a visceral reaction to the street portrait where the murderer killed Dallimore, I had expected the Aboriginal element to be more involved in the plot’s outcome and the unraveling of the mystery than it turned out to be.

Besides the two lead characters, and Tess and Emma, Stuart also gives us a sufficient cast of other complex characters to keep the reader engaged throughout. There are plenty of twists and turns and ample suspects to consider for the amateur sleuths who enjoy trying to solve the case ahead of the fictional detectives.

Chris Stuart is a talented storyteller who display excellent abilities in structuring a compelling thriller. The bread crumbs she left along the way were, in most cases, small enough not to give the game away, but large enough for the reader to recall once she unveiled the twists, which is just the way I enjoy it. The Glasgow Smile admirably lives up to the series debut and I’m looking forward to Stuart’s next novel.

Book rating: ★★★★★

Get Your Copy of The Glasgow Smile

Note: Available for pre-ordering in New Zealand only, but available soon in other markets in paperback and eBook versions.

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