TRICK OF THE DARK - Val McDermid
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
I think it's only fair that I warn you to stand by for some slightly enthusiastic reviews. I've had one of those outstanding periods of reading where there have just been some fabulous books and TRICK OF THE DARK is one of them.
In this book of masterful storytelling by Val McDermid, TRICK OF THE DARK is a character study with the tension of a really good thriller. It also does something that I suspect some readers could find confronting, in that most of the characters in this book, including the lead Charlie Flint, are extremely flawed individuals. It's also probably fair to say that the character aspects dominate the narrative, and the book is much more of a whydunit as opposed to a whodunit. Having said that, there's plenty of room for a reader to doubt their belief that they know the whodunit aspects regularly. But in terms of character, the emphasis is most definitely on temptation, loyalty, love and respect.
The viewpoint moves around each of the main characters - Charlie, Magda and Jay.
Charlie, recently professionally disgraced, struggling with the possibility of losing the long-term career as a profiler that she loves, is feeling lost and vulnerable. She's also in a long-term same-sex marriage with a partner that she loves, but she cannot seem to control the attraction she feels for another woman. Conflicted, but seemingly unable to stop herself, her struggle seems so pointless and self-destructive.
Magda, recently newly-wed and widowed within the same day, has obviously been profoundly affected by the death of her husband, but equally by the chance meeting with Jay on her wedding day. She's hesitant, almost ineffectual, and she seems to be struggling to move on. It doesn't help that her new love is somebody that her mother has some profound doubts about.
Jay is a successful and wealthy businesswoman in her own right, but there have been tragedies in her past that Magda's mother, Corinna is particularly concerned about. Writing a book about her life, Jay's internal voice is often self-serving, giving the reader a skewed view of who this person is. Or maybe not.
Magda's mother Corinna is an Oxford Don, teacher, mentor and sometime employer of Charlie and Jay, who is very concerned about Jay and Magda's relationship. She also doesn't believe that her son-in-law's business partners murdered him, despite the verdict of the trial so recently completed.
The past connections give the story something of a closed room feeling, as everything revolves around events, and relationships from university days through to the present. The emotional states of each of the characters builds on that even further as they are often inward looking. Mind you, the present aspects of TRICK OF THE DARK aren't just introspective, overly dark or slow as a result. The story moves forward quickly, the character's personalities balanced against each other avoiding an overdose of self-pity or self-justification. Which really just leaves the reader looking to the future and wondering if this really is the last we'll see of Charlie Flint.
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.
When Charlie Flint is sent a mysterious package of press cuttings about a brutal murder, it instantly grabs her attention. The murder occurred in the grounds of her old Oxford college - a groom battered to death just hours after his wedding. As his bride and wedding guests sipped champagne, his alleged killers were slipping his bloodstained body into the river.
Charlie doesn't know who sent the package, or why, but she can't get the crime out of her head. And with her professional life as a clinical psychiatrist in tatters, she has plenty of time on her hands to investigate.