Book Review: The Thirteenth Coffin by Nigel McCrery

DCI Mark Lapslie is called to a bunker where a tramp has been found dead. There’s no evidence of foul play, but also inside the bunker are twelve coffins, and with each coffin is a doll. Nine of the dolls are damaged and have been placed inside their coffins, but the final three – a bride, a major and a teacher – are stood outside their coffins in immaculate condition.

Not long after they’re found, a bride is shot dead on her wedding day and when Lapslie is called back to the bunker, he finds the bride doll now inside her coffin and her dress covered in blood.

When I picked up the The Thirteenth Coffin I was immediately intrigued by its premise and that only increased when I began reading. In the Author’s Note, McCrery explains how the inspiration for this book is, in part, related to seventeen wooden coffins that were found at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh in 1836. No one knows for sure why, how or who put them there, but it is a great piece of inspiration and one that McCrery uses brilliantly.

The book is split between the main narrative following present day events and showing the reader how each of the nine people represented by the dolls met their maker. As a rule I really like the use of multiple points of view, and I think McCrery uses it effectively to keep the momentum of the story going, while continuing to draw you in through the police investigation.

DCI Lapslie is also a very interesting character – he suffers from a condition called synaesthesia, which is a neurological condition effecting the senses, where one sense automatically triggers another. In Lapslie’s case people’s voices and sounds have different tastes. This gives a different edge to the narrative as alongside the normal visual descriptions of characters you get in every novel, you also gain an extra layer of insight about a character when Lapslie experiences a new voice and taste.

On the whole, McCrery weaves the narrative very well, with some twists I wasn’t expecting and others I sort of was, and my interest was held until the very end.

However this is where it fell apart a little for me. Having been drawn so completely into such a meticulously created story I found the conclusion to be disappointing – it sort of reminded me of when you wrote stories in primary school, and having been through a massive adventure you ended with, ‘and they all went home for tea’. The writing and planning of the narrative was so good that I was honestly expecting something better.

The Thirteenth Coffin is definitely worth a read, even if the ending could be considered a little lacklustre. McCrery’s story telling and narrative construction was really well done, and will certainly draw you into Lapslie’s world as he battles his own health problems alongside catching an illusive killer.

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