Glasgow, 1969. In the grip of the worst winter for years, the city is brought to its knees by a killer whose name fills the streets with fear: the Quaker. He takes his next victim the third woman from the same nightclub and dumps her in the street like rubbish.
A detective with everything to prove.
In 1977 William McIlvanney released Laidlaw, a novel which is widely regarded as being the first Tartan Noir novel. Following his death in 2015 the award for the best Scottish crime book was renamed the McIlvanney Prize in his honour. This year the prize was awarded to William McIlvanney’s son Liam for his novel The Quaker which is loosely based upon the three Bible John murders in Glasgow in the late 60’s. Fans of Ian Rankin will recognise Bible John from the 8th Rebus novel Black and Blue.
After a Prologue and the first of three disturbing chapters telling the murders from the perspective of the victims The Quaker begins with DI Duncan McCormack entering the Bible John murder investigation room. It’s been over a year since the first murder and the investigation has ground to a halt. He’s been sent there to write a report on the investigation, a report which senior hope to use as justification for winding up the investigation. McCormack isn’t happy to be there, he’d rather be chasing down Glasgow crime boss John McGlashan. He’s not made welcome either and a frosty partnership with DS Goldie begins. McCormack will eventually write his report, but he’ll also become obsessed with the investigation and try to solve it himself.
Running parallel to the McCormack’s story is one dedicated to Alex Paton, a former Glasgow resident and peterman, who’s returning to Glasgow to take part in a robbery. Paton is precise, doesn’t take unnecessary risks and resents having to pay a percentage of their takings to McGlashan, a fee for carrying out a robbery on his patch. The storylines slowly converge and after a fourth murder the police think they have their man, but do they?
There is a third and final part to The Quaker which makes it stand out. Although Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at Glasgow University, he now lives in New Zealand where he is the Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at University of Otago. This gives The Quaker a strong sense of an outsider looking in at the people and city of Glasgow during a time when the city was undergoing a period of great upheaval. A time when many buildings were being torn down and neighbourhoods changed overnight. It all makes for a highly enjoyable read and DI Duncan McCormack is also a character who deserves future novels.
Country of the Blind, Chris Brookmyre
The murder of a media mogul at a country mansion appears to be the result of him disturbing a gang of would-be thieves. The robbers are swiftly caught, but when they are unexpectedly moved to a different prison they escape. Back in Edinburgh, a young solicitor reveals to the press that one of the subjects had left a letter with her some time before the break-in which proves his innocence.
“But Parlabane, tears welling in his eyes as knelt trembling on the carpet, knew exactly what they meant.
They meant black was white, white was black, something was very, very wrong- and only he could prove it.”
When I started my summer favourites series of reviews I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I picked up a Chris Brookmyre novel, the question always going to be, which one? After the release of his debut novel, Quite Ugly One Morning, Brookmyre wrote three equally excellent novels, Country of the Blind, One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night and Not the End of the World. At various times each one has been my favourite and by the end of the summer I may just review all three, for today at least Country of the Blind is my favourite. It’s also the second novel to feature Chris Brookmyre’s most prolific character, investigative journalist Jack Parlabane, of which there are eight novels and one short story.
The synopsis of Country of the Blind is in itself fairly simple. Four men are arrested for the brutal murder of a media tycoon, his wife and two bodyguards. The tabloid media are soon baying for their blood and calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Enter Jack Parlabane, who soon realises that all is not as it seems; and he must prove the men’s innocence whilst the body count continues to rise. Along the way there are hilariously funny patches of Scottish dialect, corrupt Tory politicians, plenty of music references, copious amounts of swearing and violence and a wonderful cast of supporting characters, some of whom re-appear in future Brookmyre novels.
Before finishing I should mention something about the opening chapter. In comparison to the blasphemous swearing which opened Quite Ugly One Morning, Country of the Blind opens more gently with “a nice cup of tea”, but don’t let that fool you, it isn’t long before Mrs McGrotty sweeps through the door and, for anyone who’s tempted to listen to an Audiobook of Country of the Blind, I highly recommend that you don’t listen to the first chapter in the car or at the very least not when the car is moving. It’s very difficult to drive and howl with laughter at the same time, you have been warned.
Fault Lines, Doug Johnstone
A little lie … a seismic secret … and the cracks are beginning to show…
Imagine a very different Edinburgh, one where constant earthquakes, tremors and aftershocks are a regular part of life. This is the setting for Fault Lines which opens with Surtsey setting foot on Inch, a small island in the Firth of Forth which was formed after a volcanic eruption 25 years earlier. Although Surtsey has always felt an affinity with Inch, having been born on the day it was formed, she is not there to go sightseeing, Surtsey is there to meet her boss, PhD supervisor and lover Tom. When Tom is found dead on the shoreline Surtsey panics, quickly grabs Tom’s phone and flees Inch, leaving him to a grisly fate. With every decision there is always a consequence and Surtsey soon finds that she’s not very good at making the right decisions.
After reading Jack’s Return Home Fault Lines was not only a welcome relief, it was also a very enjoyable read and one which made me wish I’d discovered Doug Johnstone many years previously. Surtsey is an excellent lead character and one which, as she often makes angry and rash decisions, you struggle to maintain sympathy with. Some of the other characters, notably friend and fellow student Halima, Surtsey’s sister Iona who she has a fiery relationship with, their terminally ill mother Louise and Donna, who’s a nurse at the hospice where Louise resides, are equally good. For me as a reader it was a joy to read a novel where almost all of the main characters were female and although each of them had their own faults, some of them deeply flawed, they were never caricatured.
Summer is well on the way and with many of the current crop of Australian novels being set in our drought ridden country towns the setting of Fault Lines in the cool waters of the Firth of Forth is not only a pleasant cool change, it’s also a darn good read. Highly recommended.