11 Glesca belongs to …

by Malcolm Redfellow

… a horse of a different colour, one Christopher Brookmyre, now being marketed as “Chris”, and doubtless on his way to the unadorned block-print surname that is the likes of “Bateman“.

Bear in mind that every other Scottish crime writer has that problem called Ian Rankin. So, on one level, you know where you are with Brookmyre — except (and this is the point) you don’t.  With Brookmyre, by choice the locale is definitely not the Athens of the North:

There was a six‐foot iguana swaying purposefully into Parlabane’s path as he walked down High St. It had spotted him a few yards back and instinctively homed in on its prey, recognising that look in his eye and reacting without mercy. Some kind of sixth sense told cats which person in any given room most detested or was allergic to their species, so that they knew precisely whose lap to leap upon. A similar prescience had been visited upon spoilt Oxbridge undergrad hoorays in stupid costumes dispensing fliers for their dismal plays and revues. It was for this reason that a phenomenon such as the Fringe could never have thrived in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, most locals were stoically, if wearily, tolerant of such impositions; through in the west, dressing up as a giant lizard and deliberately getting in people’s way would constitute reckless endangerment of the self.

“There’s no getting past me, I’m afraid!” the iguana chirped brightly in a stagey, let’s‐be‐friends, happy‐cheery, go on, please stab me, you know it’ll make you feel better tone of voice. “Not without taking one of these!” it continued, thrusting a handful of leaflets at him.

Parlabane had put on the wrong t‐shirt that morning, forgetting that his errands would unavoidably take him through places residents knew well to avoid during the Festival (or to give it its full name in the native tongue, the Fucking Festival). He was wearing a plain white one, which was nice enough but vitally lacked the legend “FUCK OFF – I LIVE HERE”, as was borne on several others at home. His August wardrobe, he liked to call it.

That’s from Bampot Central, a short-story in the anthology Fresh Blood 2: definitely worth the search.

Malcolm attic has a shelf with half-a-metre occupied by Brookmyre’s previous stuff. As Malcolm has said elsewhere, he found the admixture of black comedy and well-crafted noir very palatable indeed. The character of Parlabane was a remarkable one, and had unexploited lengths to go before Brookmyre despatched him. Lately there came some very weird stuff indeed: Brookmyre’s immediate last, Pandaemonium, was damned hard work — quite literally (and Malcolm chooses his word well) approaching the gates of hell. Malcolm’s assumption was Brookmyre was making an ill-intended fist at the post-teenage schlocker market

Perhaps an editor has had a quiet word with Brookmyre, because the new one, Where the Bodies are Buried, is a return to old ground (pun intended). It is billed as the first in a brand new crime series.

This is a good straightforward police procedural.

We have the conflicted detective, Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod (she has issues with her marital sex-life, but wouldn’t normally allow anyone to smoke in the car), and the requisite sick-kick, Detective Inspector Laura Geddes (who has little more than a stroll-by part). Across the gangway is Jasmine Sharp, theatre-school drop-out and recovering twenty-year-old orphan, finding herself in sole charge of her Uncle Jim’s private detective agency and looking for Uncle Jim.

Is Brookmyre showing Rankin how to do the gear-shift to writing female central characters? For a while there we thought Rebus would be succeeded by Siobhan Clarke.

The Parlabane substitute is “Tron Ingrams”, a.k.a. Glen Fallan. We obviously have not finished our business with Mr Fallan in this brand new crime series, nor have DS McLeod nor Miss Sharp.

Inevitably almost nobody is how they are first presented. The essential matter to grasp is this is Brookmyre. Take nothing on trust, especially not the basic assertion:

‘This is Glesca … Any time you’re confused, take a wee minute to remind yourself of that inescapable fact: this is Glesca. We don’t do subtle, we don’t do nuanced, we don’t do conspiracy. We do pish-heid bampot bludgeoning his girlfriend to death in a fit of paranoid rage induced by forty-eight hours on the batter. We do coked-up neds jumping on a guy’s heid outside a nightclub because he looked at them funny. We do drug-dealing gangster rockets shooting other drug-dealing rockets as comeback for something almost identical a fortnight ago. We do bam-on-bam. We do tit-for-tat, score-settling, feuds, jealousy, petty revenge. We do straightforward. We do obvious. We do cannaemisswhodunit. When you hear hoofbeats on Suchiehall Street, it’s gaunny be a horse, no’ a zebra, because?”

“This is Glesca”.

For a couple of days this one threatened to gather dust and top the guilt pile. For good reason, on a second reading of the opening chapter, it didn’t persist there. All that is to be hoped now is:

  • the series continues in the same vein;
  • the paperback, when it comes along, has better production values than the over-priced hard-back.