First published back in September of 2009, ‘Halfhead’ is the seventh novel to be published for the Scottish author Stuart MacBride. Set in the not too distant future, MacBride’s brutally dark vision of Glasgow instantly throws together echoes of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi vision of the future in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) with an even more gritty and home-grown edge.

DLS Synopsis:
Glasgow has been separated in two with the poor and under privileged now crammed into large high-rise blocks, whilst the wealthier citizens of Glasgow live purposefully away from these deprived and crime ridden pockets of the city. The majority of those who live their lives in relative poverty have taken on an addiction to submerging themselves in virtual reality consoles for sheer escapism. For those that deviate drastically from the law, they have their liberties permanently removed by way of a surgical punishment. For this they are lobotomised, their lower jaw removed, as are all of their sex organs. What is left is a mindless body capable of performing only menial day-to-day cleaning tasks around the city. These working zombies are simply referred to as ‘halfheads’.

Assistant Section Director William Hunter of ‘The Network’ (an elite police force) is on the trail of a potential serial killer that has begun to strike the under-privileged areas of Glasgow. Hunter is called in to investigate one such murder in the unsafe building named Sherman House. Upon arriving, Hunter is met by Detective Sergeant Jo Cameron, a member of the Blue Coats (a lower ranking and under-funded secondary police force). Their first meeting is somewhat frosty to say the least, however, after Cameron is put on a secondment with the Network, Hunter and herself soon begin to form a very tight relationship.

Meanwhile, more horrific murders are taking place in Sherman House, and after some further investigations into these, it becomes apparent that there is far more to this sudden civil unrest than first meets the eye. Hunter takes it upon himself to fully investigate these recent savage murders that bring back haunting memories of the atrocities caused at the hands of a Dr Fiona Westfield. However, Westfield was caught and halfheaded six years ago. So there is no way in which she could be behind any of these murders...

DLS Review:
From the very beginning, MacBride pulls the reader into this disorientating future set in the city of Glasgow, allowing them to gradually discover all of the subtle developments and changes that have now become the norm. Males and females are now treated one-hundred percent equally within the workplace. Homosexuality is now as commonplace as a heterosexual relationship. Weaponry is standard issue for the police forces, with an array of weapons that seem to have been born form the principals of the modern day stun-gun. MacBride manages to paint a truly vivid and uncompromisingly bleak vision of this urban future that screams eerily of a potentially-close-prediction.

MacBride utilises a number of carefully developed characters, each fulfilling their own unique role within the tale. As the plot moves further along, so these characters begin to play out their individual parts, drawing together a close knit collection of characters, who bring the gloomy premise of the tale to life.

MacBride doesn’t hold back on the strength of the mutilations involved in the story. Instead he drives home a barrage of disturbingly intense passages detailing some very strong and graphic depictions of murder and mutilation. This no-holds-barred approach comes to a peak halfway through the novel, when MacBride confronts the reader with the crème de la crème of sexual depravation that is set to sicken even the most hardcore of readers.

With the plot becoming more and more involved, so the storyline becomes more gripping. MacBride’s constant switching to the first person perspective for a select number of characters keeps the reader feeling totally engaged with each development in to tale. Disorientating at times, this careful use of the first person perspective cunningly keeps the reader on their toes at the beginning of each and every chapter.

As the novel draws towards its monstrous finale, MacBride throws in an abundance of over-the-top action for our principal characters, as they jump from one dramatic situation to the next, with barely a breather in between. The novel ends with a totally unforeseen twist ending that makes the reader scan back a chapter or two in their head, as the pieces all fall together. The conclusion is far from an all-encompassing one, but rather a Thomas Harris style of open ending, with just enough closure to certain aspects of the tale to allow the novel to have a satisfying ending.

MacBride leaves a number of small and relatively trivial aspects of the novel totally unexplained, such as why DS Cameron wears such intensely colourful clothing as part of her job. The explanation for this is never revealed for some reason. Although this
open feel to many small parts of the novel seems to somehow give it a much richer life.

All in all, this is page after page of gritty futuristic action that delivers a rollercoaster of tension interspersed with scenes of graphic violence and mutilation. This is a Scottish Blade Runner gone nasty.

The novel runs for a total of 376 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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