The Exiled by William Meikle kicks off like many a good crime thriller, with its world weary protagonist Detective (Inspector presumably, I must confess I cannot recall, now) John Granger called out to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl from a rough Edinburgh estate. This disappearance may be part of a series. Coming at the investigation from a different direction is Granger's partly estranged brother Alan, an investigative reporter. Both have their various methods and avenues to pursue, but it eventually begins to seem as if there is more than just a child abductor at large. The ominous signs of ritual, the supernatural and the fantastique loom over the events. When the brothers' paths eventually converge, it may already be too late to prevent horrors from being unleashed...
The books begins in very similar territory to a gritty crime thriller such as Ian Rankin might pen. The setting is grounded in reality and this is enhanced by the authentic local dialects and speech. It's a rare trick to pull off, making Scottish people in stories more than two-dimensional caricatures, but being Scottish-born himself, Mr Meikle has no concerns in this area. The writing is clear and wastes no time in building up the characters and setting the scene. We shift alternate viewpoints between the two brothers and it's a device that serves the rest of the novel well. Meikle distinguishes the two by referring to John Granger by his surname and Alan by his first and it never gets confusing.
There's much to enjoy here, from the dank urban crime setting to the black gallows humour that permeates the dialogue. This is a book rooted firmly in the Scottish mentality (if there is such a thing) - dour, sardonic, yet possessed of a determination to see things through, to make the attempt even if all seems lost. And let's not forget the banter... Add in to this, the subtle introduction and slow build of the more fantastic elements and you have a strong, unique work. Again, it's a difficult thing to do, this changing of genres partway through a story, but it's done so naturally here, that one could assume Mr Meikle is an old hand at this (he may well be, this is my first real taste of his work - but it's not going to be my last). The book is definitely a work of two halves, but the change is so seamless and gradual, you never notice it's happening until you stop to look around.
A great story that takes on crime thrillers, conspiracy stories, myths, the supernatural and even has time for a bit of social commentary and emotional punch, and completely holds its own. I sourced the limited signed hardback from DarkFuse on the strength of this.
The audio version of The Exiled is read by Chris Barnes, who has a wealth of experience reading diverse stories from many different authors. I'm not really all that experienced with audiobooks (the only other one I've 'read' was a CD of James Herbert's The Rats that nearly made me crash my car because I was concentrating too much on it). I do find it difficult to sit still for these things, yet if I'm doing something my concentration wavers... I finally discovered the ideal thing - sketching. I was able to concentrate on the story as it was read whilst I drew a pencil drawing. Ideal. So... Initially, I found Chris's voice a bit harsh. He seemed to attack the words - think a mildly irritated John Hannah... But once I found the rhythm of the story (and it didn't take long), I was swept up. In particular, I liked Chris's accents. Since he's a fellow Scot, I'd have been mightily disappointed if he hadn't got these right, but he was spot on. I burst out laughing a few times as he nailed a slice of expletive-laced Scots following a lovely description of, say, a fantastic landscape. The only time this didn't really work for me was with the 'sing-song' accent of a later character, who was described as having the tones of someone from the Highlands. It was just a bit too on the comical side for me. But a very minor issue. I really enjoyed the audio experience and I'd definitely give it another go, although ultimately, I'm a physical book person at heart.
Great stuff from both Mr Meikle and Mr Barnes.