This is one seriously heavy book to read. The topic is terrifying to any parent and throughout, the book is blacker than the Earl of Hell's waistcoat and grittier than a sand sandwich. Just remember that MacBride is one of the leading lights of the Tartan Noir scene and Noir is often described as being about losers losing.
Enough of the health and safety warnings though. 'Birthdays for the Dead' is a fantastic read written by a master craftsman. Henderson is an old school copper whose only real aim in life is to track down his daughter's killer and then become judge, jury and executioner. His world is one we neither know nor wish to inhabit. Gang bosses, loan sharks, lap-dancers and twisted killers are his world and MacBride shows this world in all its seedy sentience.
The plot is structurally sound but is of little real significance as the real stars of the show are the characters and the writing. Some purists may say that there are inconsistencies between Henderson's reality and modern policing methods. Without these touches of artistic license the story would be dulled, impaired and worst of all slowed down.
Henderson's vigilante tendencies and the hard drinking psychologists were so exaggerated as to almost be parodies of caricatures. MacBride also aims a satirical eye at others as he draws the reader into the twisted world of Ash Henderson. Mrs Kerrigan is a character I enjoyed reading about and the slimy Sensational Steve was utterly believable.
As ever with MacBride the prose is beautifully sparse and as an aspiring author myself I have to hold my hands up in awe at the way MacBride can say so much with so few words. If you want a novel that's more hardboiled than any of your Granny's favourite sweets then 'Birthdays for the Dead' is the one for you.