'There are some concepts that are alien to the Glaswegian mind. Salad. Dentistry. Forgiveness.'
Glasgow in the 1950's - not somewhere you'd choose to be unless you were born to it. Yet Lennox, a private investigator of Canadian descent, finds it oddly congenial. Lennox is a man balanced between the law and those who break it - a dangerous place where only the toughest and most ruthless survive.
THE LONG GLASGOW KISS is the second book from Craig Russell featuring Lennox, Canadian raised, returned soldier, Private Investigator who dances a fine line between the law and the gangsters. Glasgow in the 1950's is controlled by the Three Kings, dangerous men who have divided up the spoils of organised crime and negotiated a sort of working relationship. It goes without saying that they don't trust each other, and Lennox often finds himself caught up in the middle. But Lennox is one of those lone-wolf; act first, think later; never take a step backwards sort of characters - somehow perfect for post-war, gloomy and complicated Glasgow.
Of course there's lots of lone wolf style characters in crime fiction and it's hard to avoid stereotypes, although Lennox does add his own particular flavour to things. A little unlucky in love, it's more that he doesn't really try that hard - rather than constantly being used and abused. Okay, so when he's deep in act first, think later mode he's very inclined to get beaten up - and to hand out a few thumpings of his own. Often he's dancing that fine line between the law enforcers and the law forcers, but with Lennox is less Quick Step and more The Stomp. And he does have a tendency to bite off a bit more than he can chew - in this case too many simultaneous investigations. He's been hired to look for a missing brother, heavied into working out what's going on with a prominent boxer and sort of "johnny on the spotted" into searching for the killer of Jimmy MacFarlane - father of his current, well girlfriend's probably too strong a word for the sort of relationship they have.
In order to pull off this workload Lennox uses an interesting combination of help on the side from all sides, a bit of adroit juggling of time and focus, a bit of luck, and a lot of his favourite method of investigation - the "poke something with a very big stick" and see what bites back method. And that's part of the reason why I really like these Lennox books. There's an absolute honesty to the way that Lennox works - part who you know / part what you know / part knowing who knows what you don't know / part who you can annoy until they spit the dummy and reveal more than they intended. He works the streets, the people, his friends and his foes with adroitness, but at the same time there's a basic decency and loyalty about the man that really fits not just his persona but the time and place. A fundamental loyalty that sits well on the shoulders of a man with a past, who is struggling a lot with what his future will be.
Because of the timeframe of the books you can forget computers and mobile phones. We're talking shoe leather and phone boxes. Because of the location we're talking dark, and gloomy. Glasgow is still very much in the thrall of the Second World War, partially because so many of its denizens are also still struggling with the reality of war, and the deprivations afterwards. We are also given a glimpse into a future of drugs and international influences which don't bode well for anyone. Now I'm waiting patiently for the next book because you just can't help wondering what's going to happen to the kingdom of the Three Kings, and where Lennox goes from here.
FEVER OF THE BONE - Val McDermid
When teenager Jennifer Maidment's murdered and mutilated body is discovered, it's clear that there is a dangerous psychopath on the loose. But it's not long before Tony and DCI Carol Jordan realise it's the start of a brutal campaign targeting an apparently unconnected group of young people. Their chameleon-like killer is chatting with them online, pretending to share their interests and beliefs - and then luring them to their deaths.
Relationships (personal, business, familial, friendship) are complicated things, as the 6th Tony Hill and Carol Jordan book FEVER IN THE BONE explores.
The central investigation centres around the brutal deaths of a number of apparently unconnected teenage victims. Starting out with a look at the victims themselves, and therefore into their family relationships, McDermid simultaneously weaves in a closer look at the families of her main characters. Tony's hitherto unknown father, and his non-relationship with his mother; the strange little "family" that is Hill and Carol Jordan's friendship; even the family that is the Carol's specialist investigation squad. Tellingly, McDermid also explores the relationships that people form in the world of social networking (going so far, it seems, as to create the social networking environment referred to in the book - which has now closed down I believe).
One of the most important things I noticed in reading FEVER OF THE BONE is that even though I'm all over the place with this series, there was no point when I felt I was missing out on something from an earlier book. I think a reader could jump into the series just about anywhere and find themselves engaged from the start. Sure there's some relationship development - particularly between Tony and Carol - that's going on, but it's carefully paced and it's not hard to work out what the backstory is. Mind you, it probably does help to realise that part of McDermid's great skill as a writer is evident in Tony. He's undoubtedly one of the most engaging annoying characters you're ever going to encounter in crime fiction. Possibly not surprising when you consider that his profiling style is to somehow or other think himself into the head of a killer, but it's definitely not a recipe for being an all sunshine and happy smiling times sort of a bloke.
There is some backstory to Tony, from his childhood through to the recent discovery of the identity of the father that he never knew. There are a lot of reasons for Tony to be complicated and they are explored in FEVER OF THE BONE. There are undoubtedly reasons for Carol to be complicated also. And that's another relationship that gets an airing in FEVER OF THE BONE - Carol has a new boss - James Blake. She has gone from having the support of her superiors, including their understanding that Tony's consultancy role on major investigations is a given, to a new boss who isn't supportive, is borderline dismissive and extremely suspicious of the combination of personal and professional between Tony and Carol. When he stops Carol from using Tony as a consultant to this investigation, he cuts off a lifeline that she's relied upon. Not just because of his skill as a profiler, but because Carol feels safe when Tony is around. Eventually Tony is able to hand Carol a way of ensuring his involvement, but with that comes an offer of major change in both their lives. As the investigation is resolved, the future becomes the next mystery - for them and for the reader.
With every book I read in this series, I find something new to admire. The way that McDermid works with her characters, exposing flaws, highlighting strengths, making them human whilst not overtly looking for sympathy. Obviously this is strongest in the main characters, but there is also evolution in the supporting character set. The way she humanises the victims - again flaws, strengths and all. There's good, solid, old-fashioned police investigating going on, supported admirably by clever technology, but the emphasis is the right way around - the hi-tech supports the slog, enhances the hunches, and tightens up the timeframes within the investigation. And finally, there's a clever, tight and quite chilling plot, with some unexpected but perfectly believable twists and turns that lead to a final resolution that will make the reader think long and hard about assumptions and prejudices.
FEVER OF THE BONE - Val McDermid
There are reasons why Val McDermid is one of the best in the business when it comes to writing crime fiction and they are all contained in FEVER OF THE BONE.
Tony, Carol and her team are all familiar but evolving characters. Characters you care about. Several different threads of the plot weave in and out of each other, changing emphasis at just the right time for maximum suspense.
FEVER OF THE BONE differs from many books featuring serial killers in that McDermid doesn't take you inside the killer's head and doesn't describe graphic violence.
It is a police procedural and one of the best I've read in a long time.
FEVER OF THE BONE is one of my top books of 2009 to date. It would take something very, very special to knock it off that list. I can't recommend it highly enough.