Book review: Cruel Summer by M.R. Mackenzie
Cruel Summer - M R Mackenzie
It takes a little while before you know where it is going, but if you think no crime has taken place at the start of Cruel Summer, you haven't been paying attention. And in some ways that's the point of M.R. Mackenzie's writing here; some crimes are more or less invisible to the general public. There's no blood-soaked body lying in the snow of Kelvingrove Park, as there was in the author's first novel In The Silence, but you can be sure that the focus on a Scottish MSP and his ambition to become the leader of the Scottish Conservative party disguises any number of sins against the community, with policies that have undoubtedly killed more than just one person.
As it happens though Dominic Ryland has another uglier side to his personality, as Zoe Callahan discovers when she is out on a bender one night in Glasgow. Coming around in a guest house, she overhears two men talking about clearing up the rape of a woman in the room next to her, a woman who happens to be Zoe's neighbour Jasmine. Past experiences mean that she can't let this lie, so she convinces Jasmine to report it to the police. There is however just a couple of obstacles that might stand in the way of seeing anyone brought to justice for this; firstly, Jasmine is a high class escort and, secondly, the accused rapist is that very same important and respected politician Dominic Ryland.
After the events of In the Silence, it initially might seems a little limiting that rape is once again the central crime aspect of its follow-up Cruel Summer. You might think that Mackenzie has covered this topic thoroughly in the previous book but there is justification for it here, and indeed it is only the starting point for an even deeper examination of how society views certain types of crime. For her efforts, Zoe Callahan discovers that in Scotland, one woman experiences domestic violence every ten minutes and in one year there can be up to 7,000 sexual offences. No wonder the police are reluctant to spend time prosecuting such cases. Well, that's one of the reasons anyway...
Which brings us to where Cruel Summer follows on from Mackenzie's previous crime thriller In The Silence. To avoid spoilers for the earlier book, all I will say about it is that the quest for true justice in the rape cases was not assumed at the conclusion, and the trial of the accused is now about to take place two and a half years later. That's sure to be a troubling experience for Zoe Callahan and the victim who has to relive the events that led to the killing spree in the previous book as Zoe quickly comes to realise that the idea of justice is not there to protect the victim, but serves those with money and influence. And those with power are of course usually men.
What is surprising and different about Cruel Summer is how M.R. Mackenzie completely changes the tone of his writing by switching the leading character from criminologist Anna Scavolini in In The Silence to present this case from the rather more down-to-earth perspective of Zoe Callahan. Although there was nothing conventional or academic about how Anna Scavolini investigated, it was orderly and methodical, whereas Zoe Callahan's teaming up with an intimidating Irish lesbian called Fin takes a much more hands-on and flying-by-the-seat of-your-pants approach towards seeing justice done.
The narrative voice consequently is very different in Cruel Summer, Mackenzie adopting the deadpan humour and vernacular of the more colourful parts of Glasgow, Zoe Callahan getting down and dirty with life and crime in areas where someone like Anna Scavolini would never have access. Although they don't have to be read together, Cruel Summer ties-in exceptionally well with events that took place in the previous novel In The Silence, following through on the issues raised and giving them a deeper social context. Combined back-to-back the two books present two very different ways of looking at the world of crime and justice. and it turns out that both views are really necessary to present a fuller picture of the connection between power and crime where sexual abuse is just one of its manifestations.
Zoe Callahan's rather more direct and emotive approach in Cruel Summer permits a very different exploration into those uncomfortable areas where crime becomes invisible or twisted by the media and the authorities of justice into a form that can be presented in a more palatable way to the general public and in a way that better serves their own private agendas. Cruel Summer takes no prisoners in its examination of the social and political implications of crime and justice, but it does so in a manner that it is rich in humour, character observations and location detail and totally compelling as a crime thriller.