The last few years have seen a real development in the breadth of what I’m going to loosely call Scottish crime fiction. A genre which for so long seemed one-dimensional in style as well as content has become as varied and interesting as any other area in Scottish writing today, arguably more so.
Don’t misunderstand me, there have always been great writers in this genre. McIllvanney, Rankin, Brookmyre, McDermid – they all have a style which is distinctly theirs and which has shaped how we think of modern crime writing. But, in the last 15 years we have had important and genre busting novels from Louise Welsh, Doug Johnstone, Alex Gray, Helen Fitzgerald, Neil Mackay, Mary Paulson Ellis and Graeme Macrae Burnet, with each writer being very different in terms of style and content, but they were all to be found on the programme for the Bloody Scotland Book Festival 2016. Where readers used to perceive stereotypes they can now find variety and fresh perspectives.
I’ve said it before, but Saraband Books development of their crime imprint Contraband has taken this development even further, publishing as diverse and often experimental publications such as Graham Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, Douglas Skelton’s The Dead Don’t Boogie, and the aforementioned, and now Booker Prize short-listed, Graham Macrae Burnet’s My Bloody Project, as well as work from established writers Mat Bendoris, Michael J. Malone and Neil Broadfoot.
The latter’s new novel is All The Devils, the latest in his series which began with Falling Fast, which has crime journalist Doug McGregor as its anti-hero. Although set in Scotland, there is a US sensibility to Broadfoot’s writing, and a cinematic quality to match. You can imagine an in-his-prime Bruce Willis as McGregor, a man close to being broken and heading in the direction of no-return, but still determined to get to the bottom of what has a become a very personal case. While he consumes as much booze, and fights as many personal demons, as Ian Rankin’s Rebus, there is something more vital about McGregor – he is less damaged, at least so far.
Doug McGregor’s life is complex, and the threat to one of those few people he trusts and cares for pushes him over the edge so that the last vestiges of civility are stripped away and he’s ready to get ‘medieval’ on anyone who threatens him and his. This allows for some blood-curdling violence and righteous retribution. To keep the reader onside with even the most ‘anti’ of heroes, the punishment must fit the crime, and the crimes in All The Devils are not only heinous, but are worringly believable, and thoroughly contemporary.
McGregor’s world is as much about deciphering what happens online as it is dealing with the distinctly physical dangers to his health – the two are inextricably linked, resulting from his coming into contact with some of the nastiest pieces of work you are likely to encounter in any novel this year. If you are paranoid about what crimes can befall you without you leaving the comfort of your home then All The Devils will do nothing to put you at ease. This is a world of revenge porn, the dark web and online fraud, where everything is recorded in one way or another, and no password or personal detail from your past, present, and even future, is safe. While reading you can’t shake the feeling that if something terrible hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s surely only a matter of time. This may be fiction, but it cuts close to the bone.
Neil Broadfoot writes thrillers which are fast-paced, visceral and thoroughly addictive. They also unnerve in a way few other crime fiction manages due to their immediacy. Normally you close the final page, and the thrill is gone, but his books stay with you. It’s a testament to Broadfoot’s writing that despite all the trials and tribulations he puts his characters, and his readers, through you are left wanting to know what happens next. For this reason, and many more, All The Devils is crying out to be adapted for TV or film. While you wait for that to happen, you can get in there early and acquaint yourself with Doug McGregor and his dark and dangerous world.
Here’s the audio version of this review: