You know how to complete the phrase, right? “No good deed…… goes unpunished.” Very late in this novel, the canny, crafty villain quotes the maxim to the equally crafty heroine, calling it an old Irish saying. By this point in the book we’ve spent a great deal of time in the slums of Glasgow and the western coast of Highland Scotland, so Ireland’s eruption into the plot is slightly surprising. But it’s just one surprise of many in this slippery, throat-catching mystery.
I’ve read No Good Deed three times now, and it is really good. Very violent, very grim, utterly absorbing. Much of it takes place in hard places among hard people; the opening scene is narrated through the eyes of nine-year-old Jamie Buchanan whose mother, a prostitute, has just overdosed on heroin with a friend while another whore, who is tied up beneath a sofa, pleads for Jamie to cut her free. Meanwhile within earshot someone named Luke is being beaten. Who, what, where, when…. but no “why.” So we keep reading. Especially when the “who” part turns out to be complicated, because the principal character in No Good Deed is brilliant bitter Detective Inspector Orla McLeod. Whom we meet while she’s under deep cover in a drugs-and-prostitution sting operation.
This particular novel of Manda Scott’s reminds me a lot of the goddess Tana French’s The Likeness, which also features a nervy complex female under cover. Scott shares French’s conviction that readers are smart and don’t have to have everything explained right away. But many of Scott’s characters in this book are vicious, even sadistic — which makes the instances of honesty and warmth leap off the page.
Scott’s a versatile writer. I’ve enjoyed her other mysteries, featuring a Glasgow psychiatrist named Kellen Stewart. She’s also written a series about the early British queen, Boudica, and another series (as M.C. Scott) about Rome. She appears to be moving away from the mystery genre, which I regret, because I’d gladly read another book about Orla McLeod. On the other hand, nobody who sympathizes with Orla would want to put her through another book like No Good Deed.