Book Review: Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Birthdays for the Dead
Author: Stuart MacBride
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller
Released: February 19th 2013 (paperback)
Review Source: Harper

The Number One bestselling crime thriller from the award-winning Stuart MacBride. A bloody, brilliant and brutal story of murder, kidnap and revenge.

Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret…

Five years ago his daughter, Rebecca, went missing on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. A year later the first card arrived: home-made, with a Polaroid picture stuck to the front – Rebecca, strapped to a chair, gagged and terrified. Every year another card: each one worse than the last.

The tabloids call him ‘The Birthday Boy’. He’s been snatching girls for twelve years, always in the run-up to their thirteenth birthday, sending the families his home-made cards showing their daughters being slowly tortured to death.

But Ash hasn’t told anyone about Rebecca’s birthday cards – they all think she’s just run away from home – because if anyone finds out, he’ll be taken off the investigation. And he’s sacrificed too much to give up before his daughter’s killer gets what he deserves…

Birthdays For The Dead was my first time reading a novel by Scottish author, Stuart MacBride. The back of the book intrigued me but as I pressed on I found it difficult to get into the story told through a rich landscape of regional accents and dialects. It much reminded me of the time I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. An excellent trilogy, but it took some adjusting to the Swedish vernacular. As with that novel, I pressed on and found a very intriguing crime thriller that became easier to read and harder to put down.

We enter the story in an ongoing investigation into the serial killer dubbed “the birthday boy”. Detective Constable Ash Henderson has worked the case from the beginning and may shed insight since he too lost his own daughter, Rebecca, right before her 13th birthday 5 years ago. But she is classified a run away. No one can know the truth if Ash is to stay on the case and catch the killer. Henderson is soon saddled with a young inexperienced forensic psychologist, Dr. Alice McDonald. But could a fresh set of eyes and new perspective be what Henderson needs to jump start this lagging investigation or will she unearth all the secrets Ash seeks to keep hidden?

The novel chronicles 9 days of the police investigation. In that short time you are immersed in many subplots that are unpredictable and riveting. I was torn whether to like Ash or not. He is ethically corrupt but is he not morally justified? I believe the struggle of good vs. bad and black vs. white is epitomized in Henderson’s need to seek retribution for the loss of his Rebecca. The police work is grueling and the effects of what the detectives see and endure have lasting ramifications on many involved.

Birthdays For The Dead, will appeal to those who enjoy crime thrillers, but don’t want an easy, predictable mystery. It isn’t a story for the faint of heart. The death and torture of the young girls is revealed in the birthday pictures sent to each girl’s parents yearly. The unpleasant and disturbing side to human nature is explored and it made me question what I would do if left in the same circumstances.

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