When we last saw J. (first name never given) McNee in author Russle McLean’s debut, The Good Son, he was on a slow rebound after having lost his fiancée to a car crash and his job as a police officer to a violent outburst that left both his career and his boss’ nose shattered.
He’s settled into life as a private investigator, more or less, and The Lost Sister kicks off with McNee taking a call with a request from a reporter he’s worked for before: look into the disappearance of a missing fourteen-year-old girl. It seems like a simple enough request, but McNee should have known better.
For starters, the police are also actively working the case, and though he still has a few contacts on the force he’s not the most popular guy around the precinct house anymore. Worse, it turns out the missing girl’s godfather is none other than David Burns, the local crime boss and a seriously nasty piece of work.
Given that his last run-in with Burns ended with McNee’s assistant shot and in a wheelchair, and McNee nursing a severely broken hand and barely escaping a murder charge, McNee makes the decision to walk away from the case least his emotions get the better of him. And he almost makes it. Almost.
That is until an investigator from out of town named Wickes shows up and requests McNee’s help looking into the case. He wants McNee’s local expertise, and happens to have information the police don’t seem to. Against all his instincts, including the feeling something’s not quite right with Wickes, McNee wades back into the hunt for the missing girl. Their resulting investigation quickly spirals out of control, unearthing dark family secrets and hidden agendas. In too deep to back out, McNee finds himself following clues which lead down a road paved with love, hate, and obsession, ending at a house in the Scottish countryside and a night of devastating violence.
As with The Good Son, the writing in The Lost Sister is lean and to the point. Though quite skilled at painting a vivid picture of Dundee, Scotland for the reader, McLean doesn’t get bogged down in excessive description. He also demonstrates a particularly deft touch with dialogue. The interactions between characters ring true of the way conversations actually flow in real life, often with what’s not said being as important as the words exchanged. After all, as McNee notes:
People never tell you the whole truth. No matter how much they trust you. No matter how much you trust them. When someone tells you a story, there’s always something they miss out. Some little fact. Some detail. They don’t always mean to do it. It simply happens. Human nature.
To that end, I was quite pleased to see McLean pick up where he left off with McNee’s psychological recovery and really delve into that aspect of the character. Something of a tough nut to crack in The Good Son, McLean lets the reader a bit further into McNee’s mind in this outing. And be it his desire to mete out some measure of revenge against Burns or his determination to hold himself to a certain code of conduct, McNee always seems to be balancing on a razor’s edge of emotion. He knows who he wants to be, he’s just still not quite sure who he is.
One thing I am quite sure of, Russel McLean is a hellaciously talented writer. Long live J. McNee…maybe we’ll even get his first name one of these days.
Be sure to check out Russel’s great guest post yesterday, “Origins.”