Fire in the Blood by Ed James

After reading Ghost in the Machine, I enjoyed Ed James’s novel so much, I downloaded the rest of the books in the Scott Cullen series, ready to read. Fire in the Blood is the third installment of this Lothian based detective series and it has been my favourite book of the series so far.

Detective Constable Scott Cullen is restless. He is irritated that he has not been made a Detective Sergeant yet despite feeling that he does all the work and he is also on the verge of moving in with his girlfriend DS Sharon McNeill following their flourishing relationship that has developed in the first two books, but seems to be stalling for some reason. As always, DI Bain is doing a lot of huffing, puffing, swearing and “strategising”, leaving Cullen frustrated with the way that the case that they are working on is progressing.

The case is an unusual one. A body is found in a barrel of whisky at an independent distillery on the day that they unveil a limited edition bottle of whisky for the distillery’s centenary. As all the victim’s teeth  have been removed, the identification process is considerably delayed but the potential victim list is narrowed down to two people – a former employee or the owner’s son, who both disappeared within weeks of each other. Cullen and his colleagues are on the case under instruction from DI Bain, who is under pressure to produce results.

I think that the reason I enjoyed this book more than the first two is because I feel like I know Scott Cullen a little better three books in. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Ghost in the Machine and Devil in the Detail, because I really did, but I am now in a position to share Cullen’s frustrations, now that the dynamic between him and Bain, as well as his other colleagues, has been explored.

James writes in a style that keeps the reader captivated. The victim and suspect list in this case is particularly short but I still wasn’t sure who the victim or the murderer was until the reveal. There are enough red herrings and diversions to stop the reader from guessing too early and Cullen’s readiness to take the initiative for better or worse takes the reader through twists and turns so that even when you think you’ve cracked it, you are hit with another bombshell to throw your suspicions out of the water.

My only negative criticism would be that I wasn’t overly keen on the couple of sex scenes in this book, mainly because there was no build up or afterglow, just a quick romp which is over and done with quite quickly. I think this was intentional on James’s part to show a potential issue in Cullen’s and McNeill’s relationship, but it seemed a little unnecessary. Their interactions are so few and far between and not especially loved-up, that this impression is already given. The sex scenes were just a little bit sordid and it really is no wonder that Cullen hasn’t moved in with McNeill yet. If that is all there is at this stage, then I don’t hold out much hope for their relationship if they move in together!

That said, this is the only criticism I have of this book. I couldn’t put it down, until it got necessary for me to have to go to sleep! I like Cullen enough to want to champion him and I am irritated by him just enough to want to give him a kick when he does something daft. As I mentioned in my reviews of Ghost in the Machine and Devil in the Detail, Cullen is flawed, which is a massive selling point for me with this series. Having read the first three books, I am sure that the others in this series will be just as enjoyable because James has created a set of characters with enough conflict between them but they know that they depend on each other to progress. He has a real talent for throwing in clever curveballs throughout to retain the reader’s interest to the end. I am really keen to get cracking with the next one in the series, but have a few other books to read first. However, you can be sure that the other Cullen novels will find their way onto in the near future.