ALEX GRANT REVIEWS
NO GOOD DEED by Manda Scott
NO GOOD DEED
Author - MANDA SCOTT
March 2003 @ $9.99 CAN.
for the Edgar Allen Poe Award 2003
A tremendously ambitious novel in the tradition of John Buchans
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, Scottish writer Manda Scott's NO GOOD DEED is very
accomplished when it deals with the undercover intrigue of The Special
Branch in Glasgow and in the Highlands of Western Scotland. Its action
fiercely apocalyptic as a small band of hardened operatives, led by Orla
McLeod and Murdo Cameron in the field and on the frontlines, contend with
the ultra-violent tactics of Tord Svensen an expert at cold-blooded torture
and a gang-lord who prides himself upon his ability to completely intimidate
and compromise every one in his purview.
Svensen labours mightily to wipe out Orla, Murdo, their implacable superiors,
and a young witness to one of his more lurid massacres of his betrayers.
A master of disguise Tord wipes out one secret operative after another
remorselessly including Orlas lover Luke Tyler. Burnt-out but determined
to complete her mission McLeod has to return to her past, her parents
the victims of sectarian intolerance in Northern Ireland.
Nine-year-old Jamie Buchanan has been squirreled away far away from the
slums of Glasgow in the family seaside cottage of Orla McLeods mother
Morag who tenderly serves the fugitives cravings for order and security,
and where Orla and Murdo play at being his surrogate parents, and where
Jamie learns that there is far more to life for an inquisitive and sturdy
youngster than booze, cigarettes and hookers sprawled in tenements that
reek of degenerate deviltry and drug-drenched dissipation.
Orla has sacrificed herself body-and-soul to infiltrate the scum who brutalized
the boy. Impersonating a whore she has let herself be drugged and bestialized
it would appear and she is ready to do so again and again in pursuit of
justice and vengeance
A classic crime plot - with its fulcrum resting upon an innocent key witness
and the tough police officer determined to keep him alive - NO GOOD DEED
lingers too often and too tediously upon the Highland country lore and
woodcraft that can slowly bring the sorry sodden, shrivelled souls of
Orla, Murdo, and Jamie back into true focus. Back to nature and all of
its splendours is one thing, but author Scott, time and again loses the
reader by tediously taking her people to romp outdoors, albeit capturing
the crisply rendered sights, heartening sounds, and pungent regenerative
smells of a harsh unforgiving winter without the economy and grace that
distinguishes her ingenious set-pieces of derring-do and her admirably
terse and invigoratingly devious plotting. The book could be a hundred
pages shorter without the insistent reminders that four-legged nature
is also brutal and red-in-tooth-and-claw
In many respects, since almost every character operates under a disguise
of some sort or other NO GOOD DEED reads more like a classic espionage
thriller than a police-procedural per se, although Scott does bring many
fine and intriguing details to her depictions of covert operations that
have run off the rails, leading to disastrous smash-ups on the lines ahead.
She cannot be faulted for ambition, only for trying too hard to blend
and contrast the pastoral with the urban unceasingly.
© Alex Grant April 2003
all rights reserved