A VIRUS ravaged Edinburgh of the future is the dystopian vision laid bare in Lesley Kelly’s The Health of Strangers series of thrillers.
Part murder mystery, part medical thriller, part futuristic noir, the novels revolve around an outfit known as the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team, led by gruff ex-copper Paterson.
His staff of four are the feisty Mona, timid Bernard, astringent Maitland, and homely Carole - they all have one thing in common, nobody likes them.
An uneasy mix of seconded Police and health service staff, they are charged with stemming the spread of ‘The Virus’, a mutant strain of influenza, by tracking down citizens who have missed their monthly health check.
In The Health of Strangers, the novel that introduced them, two young female students are missing, raising questions for the HET, who must find them.
Why were they drinking in a bikers’ bar? Who are the mysterious Children of Camus cult? And why is the German government interfering in the investigation?
That debut not only presented readers with fully rounded characters and a strangely feasible premise - think bird flu - but also painted an atmospheric picture of the seedy underbelly of the Capital, one that could only be the work of an author steeped in the city. And indeed, Kelly is local.
In the second novel, Songs of Dead Girls, published next month, the North Edinburgh HET are back in action, this time investigating the disappearance of Scotland’s leading virologist.
It’s a case that leads Mona and Paterson to take an uncomfortable trip to London together, while back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute as Maitland tries to keep the Chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.
Laced with dark humour and a sense that the unfolding fiction could become a reality at any moment, there’s a mesmeric quality to Kelly’s writing that ensures this book, like its predecessor, is a real page turner; with the exception of a few hours sleep, I read it from cover to cover over a weekend - seldom does a book have that draw.
It has also got me thinking what a brilliant TV series The Health of Strangers would make, although they’d probably changed the title to something simple like Virus!
In my head I have it cast already. Paterson I see being played against type by King’s panto favourite Andy Gray, Edinburgh’s very own Wendy Seager would be ideal for Mona, while I can imagine Portobello’s Scott Hoatson, of Bluestone 42 fame, as Bernard.
Keeping the cast Edinburgh-centric, Kajaki star David Elliot would be my Maitland, while Jane McCarry gets the nod for Carole. I wonder who you’d cast?
Have a read and see...
Songs By Dead Girls is published by Sandstone Press, 19 April, £8.99