Caro Ramsay
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Buy *Absolution* by Caro Ramsay online

Caro Ramsay
Pegasus Books
401 pages
November 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This dark, gritty urban drama beautifully captures the windy and chilly streets of Glasgow, centering on two crimes committed over twenty years apart. In 1984, rookie sergeant Alan McAlpine is called upon to investigate the identity of a pregnant girl who goes by the name of Anna. Unfortunately Anna now lies bandaged up and dying in hospital, a victim of a terrible acid attack, her face, neck, hands, and stomach brutally scared with the acid burning just too deep.

Alan hadn't quite expected Anna to be so young and so fragile, and he's surprised that no one is asking about her and that there have been no visitors. On his first night on duty by her bedside, he sits among the detritus of the evidence and discovers in her little black handbag, wrapped in a web of sellotape, a ring, plain silver with a single diamond, perhaps a lover's ring. But who could have given her this ring? Was perhaps it her husband or her fiancé who had been involved in the attack?

Alan never gets a chance to find out: soon after her daughter is born, Anna abruptly suicides, her injuries and scars too much for her. Alan is grief-stricken. With his brother, Robbie, also gone, he falls into an inconsolable maelstrom of sorrow. There was something about this enigmatic Dutch girl that entranced him; the individual and the circumstances behind the attack remain a mystery that is never solved.

In 2006, McAlpine returns to his old stamping ground to investigate the brutal slaying of two young girls, Elizabeth Jane Fulton and Lynzi Traill. The memories of his encounter with Anna come back to haunt him, "stretching and yawning from something like a deep sleep." Both girls have been found murdered, ripped open and left to bleed to death, with no forensic evidence found at either site, only the blistering of chloroform remaining on the mouth and nose.

Together with his colleagues, Detective Sergeants Anderson and Costello, both currently at the top of their professional game, McAlpine is sure that he can crack the case. Costello brings many unique talents to the investigation, especially her female intuition, and Anderson is certain to provide a much fresher and younger eye, someone who can rise to the occasion and perhaps even keep the errant McAlpine focused on the task at hand.

An obvious suspect appears in the form of the young, handsome, and recently paroled Sean McTiernan, a boy with a history of inflicting this type of violence. McTiernan did know both Elizabeth Jane and Lynzi. Elizabeth Jane had let someone into her flat, someone she knew and trusted, while Lynzi left Glasgow Central at night with somebody she also knew and trusted who wasn't her husband or her boyfriend.

When Arlene, a well-known prostitute in the area, is discovered in a back lane by a local pub with her head smashed in, her neck broken, and her body disemboweled, the police are certain that McTiernan is responsible. McAlpine is sure that only McTiernan is capable of carrying out such sadistic slayings. The killer has become so thorough and relentless in his modus operandi that the media are now labeling him the "Crucifixion Killer."

As Costello and Anderson gradually piece the case together. they discover that all three girls behaved deceptively and dishonestly. They all knew the power of their femininity and used it to get their own way, particularly with regard to the two men of faith who currently run the Phoenix Refuge, a half-way house cum church for those who are down on their luck and need some spiritual guidance.

Certainly the Reverend Leask, who works at the Refuge and lives right across from Lynzi's boyfriend, knows Elizabeth Jane's parents. Even Father O'Keefe, the founder of the Church, had a connection to all three of the girls. McAlpine, Costello, and Anderson are sure that this combination of women, anger, power, and hatred is tied to the smell of morality, the perpetrator determined to kill women whom he perceives are "immoral."

Author Caro Ramsay works hard to bring the cold and constant dark and dirty Glaswegian rain to life, the action in Absolution consistently bathed in a shadowy and subversive glow. The novel certainly holds its own among the best of other works of this genre; on every page the dialogue crackles, the language always remains crisp and fresh, and the details of the murder case are sharp and keenly observed.

McAlpine's ghosts somehow link Anna's death to the current investigation of the three murdered girls. Every time Alan goes into the murder room, he feels as though he is being sucked into a tunnel, a vortex where Anna is waiting. This, coupled with the pain of the loss of his brother, allows the investigation to nearly slide out of his grasp. It is the actions of Anderson and Costello and their rationales for finding the Crucifixion Killer that end up saving the day, revealing much about McAlpine's troubled past and also, surprisingly, the inner workings of the Glasgow City police network.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2008

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