Ghost in the Machine by Ed James

Crime fiction has never been my novel genre of choice but recently I don’t seem to have read anything else! My latest foray into crime-fiction-world was with the novel, Ghost in the Machine by Ed James. I’m conscious that I only seem to have good things to say about the recent novels that I’ve read but it seems that this chain of wonderful novels is ongoing – I enjoyed Ghost in the Machine from beginning to end.

Ghost in the Machine is the first in the series of novels that follow the life of D.C. Scott Cullen, a detective with Lothian and Borders C.I.D. Under the command of the Gene Hunt-like D.I. Bain and the supervision of potential future love interest D.S. McNeill, Cullen is investigating a series of murders of young women who all have some connection to Bain’s prime suspect Rob Thomson. However, Cullen feels that most of the evidence is circumstantial and while it would be the easy, and most career-safe, solution to the case, his instincts are telling him they may be accusing the wrong man. Whoever the murderer is, he has a technological arsenal at his disposal, grooming his victims on Schoolbook, a Facebook-style social networking site. Cullen uses his limited resources to try to find the actual killer, who may or may not be Rob Thomson, whilst trying to delay any potential wrongful conviction. However, as he is a relatively inexperienced member of the team and Bain is determined to fast-track his promotion  with a possible wrongful conviction, Cullen has to use his initiative to try to source some actual, honest-to-goodness evidence.

What I like about this novel is that D.C. Cullen is not perfect. He has naturally good instincts and is destined to be an amazing detective, however, at this first outing in novel form, he is flawed. James contrasts his actions with his colleagues and while there are things that Cullen can improve on (his staff management skills could do with some work, and he could have more willpower when considering his alcohol consumption), he uses the skills and knowledge that he does have to make some very astute observations during the investigation (one of the most memorable occasions involves a bottle of wine – as I said, making the most of what he knows!)

Ultimately, D.C. Cullen is on a learning curve, and this first novel in this series sets the reader up for future novels in the series. Cullen shows great promise as a detective and with a little refinement, his integrity and his natural skill set will likely bring him great success. His relationship with D.S. Neill doesn’t really get beyond flirty mode but there is definitely an undercurrent of attraction there and I’d be interested to know if this relationship develops. He is also not afraid to challenge D.I. Bain, although it doesn’t always work to his advantage. However, this may improve, the more experience that he gains.

James uses his location setting of Edinburgh and its surrounding areas to add an extra layer to his story. The team visit various areas from the business areas to the less affluent areas of Edinburgh. (I put this politely as James describes one particular area that Cullen visits as a “notoriously feral” part of the city.) The affluence of the areas doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the storyline but it does give a geographical introduction of Edinburgh and I, for one, enjoyed it immensely.

This novel is wonderfully written and I love that the main character is not some super-amazing, enigmatic detective who makes women swoon as soon as he walks in the door. D.C. Cullen is a young guy learning his craft, and while he is obviously still sore over a failed relationship, he is not deeply troubled particularly and doesn’t think he is God’s gift to women. He isn’t written in that way and that keeps more of the focus on the plot. I love a good series and I cannot wait to read the other books in this one. They are downloaded already (see below). I can certainly recommend this first installment. Watch this space for the others.