The Quines Of Crime: A Review Of Claire MacLeary’s Burnout…

 

DSC_0778.jpgWhen writing in any genre, new writers in particular have a balance to try to get right. They want toCP_cover introduce something fresh while still making the writing recognisable to regular readers who expect certain tropes and conceits from their fiction. If you can get the balance right then there is every chance you have a successful novel on your hands.

One of the finest crime fiction debuts of recent years was Claire MacLeary’s Cross Purpose (right). Published in 2017 on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books, it introduced two new crime fighters in the unfamiliar form of Maggie Laird and “Big” Wilma Harcus, an odd couple in a fine and long tradition from Holmes and Watson to the vast majority of recent TV detectives (Morse/Lewis, Scott/Bailey, Creek/Magellen and Hayes/Addison being just a few personal favourites).

However, having two middle-aged woman as your main protagonists is still rare enough to be noteworthy and celebrated in itself. Have them investigating crimes in and around Aberdeen, a region also underrepresented in Scottish writing, and you have situations, people, and places, rarely seen which makes the novel immediately interesting before you begin. When you add to that premise page-turning action, an ear for everyday speech which avoids cliché and the sensational, and a pleasingly dark sense of humour, it was clear that this was a writer you wanted to hear from again.

The good news is Maggie and Wilma are back in Burnout, but before going on to look at that book it is interesting to note that this was always going to be the case. In the short biography before Cross Purpose begins, it states that it will be “..followed by a sequel, Burnout.” At the end of Burnout the premise for “Harcus & Laird’s next case…” is set out. This is not only a sign of how highly MacLeary’s publishers regard her, but is a lesson for others as allowing a writer the space to create stories and character arks which will develop over the space of more than a single book makes for more interesting stories, and it is more likely that a writer will develop a following as the series unfolds. Of course, presumably for financial reasons, it appears to happen less these days, but it seems this need not be the case, with another recent example being Charles E. McGarry’s Leo Moran mysteries.

Such continuity is clear from the beginning of Burnout, where the consequences of Maggie and Wilma’s previous investigations are still unfolding, strained relationships are struggling to heal, and others continue to develop. They are finding new cases to take on, such as that of the enigmatic Sheena Struthers who is insistent, despite a distinct lack of evidence, that her husband is trying to kill her. But what is made evident is that there is not a clear and clean beginning, middle and end to criminal cases. There are causes and reasons beforehand, and often messy outcomes to follow. Sometimes there is no desired conclusion at all. This results in guilt, self-doubt, accusations and recriminations for those involved. It’s complicated, just like life.

And the reality of every day life is something else MacLeary understands well. Relationships with family, friends and partners are all central to Maggie and Wilma’s world, often causing them to look upon their investigations in different lights as the personal and professional feed into each other, each seeing parallels from their own lives in those of others. They come into contact with domestic and sexual abuse, institutional and everyday sexism, and general hypocrisy and deceit, but the strong and enduring support for, and from, both women is something they, in turn, try to offer their clients. It is tempting to see Burnout as a book of its time, when the question of gender equality in all areas has rarely been as prominent, but actually it’s more that the times are chiming with MacLeary’s writing as these stories are all too recognisable and enduring.

This is a writer who has a clear vision of who her characters are and what drives them – their hopes, fears, insecurities and weaknesses, but also their strengths. As you would expect, there is violence, fear, and loathing, in evidence, but it is often hidden behind closed doors, and is all the more insidious for it. Burnout is a psychological thriller rather than one which deals in shock and “Argh!”, avoiding the graphic and gruesome depictions which other writers often rely on, and this makes it a more interesting read than you may expect. Warm, witty, thoughtful, and thrilling, Burnout leaves you with the feeling that Claire MacLeary is only just getting started.

Burnout is out now, published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

Stinking Thinking: A Review Of Martin Geraghty’s A Mind Polluted…

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There are often claims that ambition and risk are increasingly resisted and discouraged in contemporary fiction – sure things are what booksellers are after leading to books being published which are easy to market and sell. While I’m sure there is evidence to back this up, I would suggest Scottish writing has rarely been as healthy in terms of different voices and visions, and this is cause for celebration.

In the last couple of years, on these pages, we have reviewed novels as diverse and challenging as David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device, M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of WritersOlga Wojtas’ Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden SamovarPolly Clark’s LarchfieldHelen McClory’s Flesh Of The PeachEver Dundas’ GoblinCharlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re DeadKenneth Steven’s 2020, David F. Ross’ The Man Who Loved IslandsKevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant & Forever, and many moreAll of them are distinctive and diverse, and add fresh and invigorating perspectives to the Scottish cultural conversation. Or, to put it another way, and in the words of Chic – “These are the good times”.

Martin Geraghty’s debut novel, A Mind Polluted, deserves its place among those named above. A fascinating and brave attempt to understand what makes people commit the worst of crimes, Geraghty was motivated to write it by the tragic and brutal murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June, 2016. On his website he explains:

“Various aspects of the tragedy resonated with me. The actual murder of a beautiful person who attempted to make the world a better place, the tremendous dignity her husband showed, then, I began to think about the individual who carried out the murder. What happened in his childhood? What happened in his life to get to this stage? When the answers to these questions became public, I began to write…”.

What he began to write is the story of Connor Boyd, a young man whose life is changed forever by an overheard conversation. This occurs in the ‘Prologue’, and Connor’s attitude and behaviour change overnight, so much so that his family, teachers and friends don’t recognise him as the boy they have come to know. As Connor’s stance hardens he tries to alienate his family, particularly his mother who, as the cover of the book suggests (above), is the source of his discontent – at least that is how he sees it.

You may think, as you read, that you know where this story is going, but Geraghty wrong foots the reader throughout. Split into three parts, the story spans Connor’s early life, from those troubled teenage years, through finding real friendship, purpose, and the possibility of redemption in part two, before everything unravels.

Perhaps surprisingly, as the more obvious action occurs elsewhere, it is the middle section, where Connor’s life threatens to have a happy ending, which is where Geraghty’s writing really shines. While not having the dramatic action of his childhood years, or the gripping and breathless final chapters, it is where real life is reflected most recognisably with Geraghty showing he has a keen-eye for detail and how people interact. James Kelman’s often quoted (often on these pages) statement that ‘real drama is to be found in ordinary people’s everyday lives’ came to mind as Connor finds work, camaraderie, love, and the possibility of happiness before his world comes crashing down in the most terrible manner.

How childhood events can affect individuals in later life is something which has been examined many times in literature – Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin and Jonathan Trigell’s Boy A are two recent examples which spring to mind, and like those Geraghty is constantly asking the reader to throw away their prejudices and to constantly ask questions to which he never gives easy answers.

The reader’s sympathies and empathy are constantly in flux as Connor’s relationships wax and wane and his thoughts and actions shift. Ideas of responsibility, morality, free-will, blame, guilt, nature and nurture, and culpability are all explored, and I can imagine that every reader will finish the book with a different opinion on what they have just read, which will, in turn, say as much about them as it does the text.

A Mind Polluted introduces an exciting and inquisitive new voice in Scottish writing. It’s clear Geraghty wants to explore the human condition through his writing, something, I would suggest, fiction does better than any other art form. With his debut, Martin Geraghty is asking questions which many may not wish to consider, and that itself makes A Mind Polluted worthy of attention. If you like your literature challenging, ambitious and risky, then this is a novel you must read.

A Mind Polluted is out now, published by Crooked Cat Books.

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

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Most of our music reviews are a mixed bag when it comes to style and content, but the one you are about to experience definitely has a theme. It features great singers and great songs – deceptively simple yet they are all the more powerful for the manner they are produced and presented. This is music which stays with you longer after the last note sounds. Put simply, all of the people you are about to hear – they mean it, man.

Stay on till the end for a bonus track which is a fitting conclusion to this review. It’s not just thrown together, you know…

Alasdair Roberts has featured on these pages many times before, either for one of his many solo projects or in collaboration with others, such as with Ross Whyte, and The Furrow Collective. The latest of the latter sees him alongside composer Amble Skuse and Concerto Caledonia head-honcho David McGuinness for the album What News which the three played in full at the launch at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. Roberts is known for staying faithful to the folk traditions, but this latest record, with McGuinness’s wonderful piano and Skuse’s understated electronica, breathes new life into old songs.

To my untutored ear, there is something about the loops of all three which works together beautifully – the structure and format of the ballads enhanced and developed by the new accompaniment, and lending the stories themselves extra strength and vigour. Whatever the reason, the result is a quite remarkable record – one of the best of the year, and one of the best of Roberts’ career to date. I urge you to seek it out, and if you get the chance to see them live then make sure you book your seats in good time. To give you a taste as to what to expect, this is ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’:

After writing his latest novel Peacock’s Alibi, Stuart David has returned to music, and his time with wife Karn as Looper. On the 20th anniversary of their formation for a gig at Glasgow School Of Art they released a 10-track acoustic album Quiet and Small named after the song of the same name from their debut album Up A Tree. Pared back to just vocals and an acoustic guitar (and a smattering of judicious whistling), it’s a reminder of the understated and at times heartbreaking beauty of Looper’s best work. If you haven’t yet discovered Looper this is a great place to start. If you haven’t heard them for a while, then Quiet and Small will make you fall in love with them all over again. This is ‘These Things’:

One of the best records of last year was Asleep In The Kaatskills by The Great Albatross, released on Glasgow’s LP Records. It still gets regular outings and continues to give up something new each time. The driving force behind The Great Albatross is A. Wesley Chung and this year he is back with Neon Coast (which has its launch in the aforementioned Glad Cafe on May 18th).

The first single from it is ‘Restless’ and it promises more classy Americana. If The Great Albatross was CSN&Y, then Neon Coast is shaping up like an early Neil Young or David Crosby solo record – understated and personal. A West Coast record which is more California than Kilmarnock, it could just be the sound of the summer. Here is ‘Restless’ to get the bandwagon rolling:

Beginning with her 2015 SAY winning album bones you have thrown me and blood i’ve spilled Kathryn Joseph has made some of the most memorable music of the 21st century, often in collaboration with others including R.M. Hubbert on his album Telling The Trees, and working on the Out Lines project with regular musical partner Marcus Mackay, and James Graham, producing the brilliant album Conflats. However, she is back under her own name with her latest single ‘Tell My Lover’. Achingly beautiful – simultaneously fragile and forceful, it’s a piece of music which takes the breath away and proves once more that Kathryn Joseph is an artist to treasure.

We have said before that a record coming out on Olive Grove Records is a guarantee of quality, and they continue to prove us right. The latest release is the EP Four Cold Walls from Jared Celosse. Some time ago I was talking to Olive Grove supremo and former podcast guest Lloyd Meredith and, in hushed tones, he told me he had just signed Jared and that this was hugely exciting.

Four Cold Walls proves his faith well-founded as it is a beautiful and haunting collection of songs. My favourite, as I write this, is Lost My Voice which is reminiscent of Ed Harcourt, Teddy Thompson, Tom Macrae, and a pinch of Rufus Wainwright, while remaining quite unique. A new voice to break your  heart, say hello to Jared Celosse:

Chiara Berardelli has featured on these pages before with her single ‘Deep Space Hibernation’, the first track released from her latest album Seamonster, which is out now. The theme of the album is loss, the grief that is an inevitable result, and coming to terms with that, if we ever do. It is as honest and personal a collection of songs as you’ll have heard, while still being relatable and empathetic.

I was lucky enough to be at the launch of Seamonster at The Glad Cafe (no, they aren’t sponsoring this review). It was a wonderful night – moving and poignant, yet also heart-warmingly communal, and that describes the album as a whole. Here is the title track, ‘Seamonster’:

We started off traditionally and we’re, almost, going to end the same way with a new album from Sarah-Jane Summers, a virtuoso viola and fiddle player who mixes the traditional with the experimental. Her previous album VIRR showed her at her most experimental and improvisational and was one of BBC3 Late Junction’s albums of the year in 2017, (and if it’s good enough for Fiona Talkington, it’s certainly good enough for SWH!).

Solo, her latest record, see her firmly back in the camp marked “traditional”, as evinced by songs such as ‘Oran An Aoig (The Song of Death)’ and ‘Cumha Mhic a h-Arasaig (MacIntosh’s Lament, Pibroch)’, and the playing is quite astonishing. This is a beautiful example of the album as a whole –  ‘Lament for Alexander Grant (Battan)’:

I promised you a bonus, so here it is in the form of some phone-footage taken at the Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness launch as mentioned at the top of the page. It’s their encore, and a cover of The Blue Nile’s ‘Easter Parade’ from A Walk Across The Rooftops. While it’s not great visually (understatement alert) I hope you can enjoy the music. The crowd were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop so you can listen to what is a faithful and reverential cover of one of the great Glasgow songs. Enjoy…

That’s your lot for this month, but the next review will be with you soon. See you then…

The McClory Variations: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Helen McClory…

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For the latest podcast Ali met up with Helen McClory (below) at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery to talk about her life as a writer to date – and a very interesting story it proved to be.

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From studying literature and creative writing in St Andrews, Sydney and Glasgow, to winning awards for her debut short story collection On The Edges Of Vision, walking Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s dog, the difficult publication of her novel Flesh Of The Peach, writing about Jeff Goldblum, to her latest collection of short fiction Mayhem & Death, it is a fascinating tale, and one which will be of interest to anyone who loves reading and writing.

If you haven’t yet read Helen McClory, this is the podcast to persuade you to do just that, and you can find out more about her latest publications at 404 Ink.

img_5690Helen goes back to the very beginning in terms of her writing, talks in detail about the importance of place and the influence of travel, the need for stamina and fortitude, the challenges of writing in different formats, her love of literary fiction, why she feels that weirdness and experimentation are vital if fiction is to change and challenge, and much, much more.

Speaking as she writes, with honesty and insight, it’s a great opportunity to listen to one of Scotland’s most exciting emerging literary talents discussing her experiences – the good, bad, ugly and unforgettable.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

…or on YouTube:

We’ll be back soon with something very special, if all goes to plan. See you then…

Stranger Things: A Review Of Helen McClory’s Mayhem & Death…

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One of Scots Whay Hae!’s Best Books of 2017 was Helen McClory’s novel Flesh Of The Peach, which should have reached a much wider readership but it became a casualty of the sudden demise of Freight Books, being published but with little or no publicity. I urge you to get a copy, if you still can, and treasure it. Thankfully, 404 Ink are publishing her latest collection of short fiction, Mayhem & Death – an apt title, taken from the powerful opening story ‘Souterrain’, as there proves to be plenty of both between its covers.

McClory’s stories share DNA with those of Kirsty Logan, particularly those in The Rental Heart and A Portable Shelter, and Ever Dundas’ excellent novel Goblin, but they are also reminiscent of Angela Carter and Alison Lurie, often looking to the natural world and animal kingdom, and the accompanying mythology, fantasy and fables, to examine themes of grief, alienation and loneliness. In fact Mayhem & Death has a dedication which reads ‘For The Lonely’, and it’s a subject which McClory returns to and examines throughout these tales. Continue reading

Fowl Play And Finery: A Review Of Stuart David’s Peacock’s Alibi…

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Two of the most challenging types of writing are crime and comedy. For the first you have to avoid repeating well-worn clichés while still making it as recognisably belonging to the genre. For the second, well, it’s got to be funny – perhaps the most difficult trick to pull off on the page. A successful crime/comedy, therefore, is something which is to be celebrated.

Christopher Brookmyre and Douglas Skelton are two writers who get the balance right, combining the dark side of life with the blackest of comedy, but they are rare. A worthy addition to that niche section of your bookshelves arrives in the shape of Stuart David’s latest novel Peacock’s Alibi. Set in Glasgow, and with an unerring ear for what the word on the street should sound like, Peacock’s Alibi is like a lost Taggart script as written by John Byrne. Like Byrne, David writes dialogue that isn’t how people speak, but how they wish they spoke – funnier, wittier, and with a better line in the last word. Continue reading

Man Of Letters: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Aye Write! Programmer Bob McDevitt…

 

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For the latest podcast, Ali spoke to Aye Write! Book Festival programmer, Bob 3G0X4Ir0_400x400McDevitt (right) in Glasgow’s CCA (which explains the background ‘atmosphere’). This year’s festival starts on Thursday 15th March, and the two discuss the history of the festival and how it has gradually spread its influence throughout the city from its home at the Mitchell Library. You also learn about what to expect this year, Bob’s personal highlights, the challenges of festival programming, his similar role for Bloody Scotland and the Pitlochry Winter Words Festival, and much, much more.

There are mentions for individuals as diverse as Brett Anderson, Gail Honeyman,  Sir James MacMillan, Chris Bonington, Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay, Dr Adele Patrick, and even some Men In Kilts.  As a precursor to Aye Write! 2018 it’s the perfect listen, especially when married to the SWH! preview which is over at the website right now. Continue reading

Talking Books: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2018…

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For 10 days in March (15th – 25th) Glasgow’s Book Festival Aye Write! is the only show in town for lovers of fact, fiction, food, poetry, prose, biography, comics, and any other form of writing that takes your fancy.  While the majority of events remain at the festival’s spiritual home of The Mitchell Library there is also plenty occuring at the CCA, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tramway, City Halls, GFT and Glasgow University Chapel. But it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in the city.

Here are SWH!’s carefully selected daily highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here.

You can also keep up to date with events as they unfold by following @AyeWrite on Twitter or on Facebook. Tickets can be bought here and you can click the links below for further details on the individual events.

619at83IyAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Thursday 15th – Stuart David, 7.45 – 8.45pm, University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel
Ex-Belle & Sebastian and current Looper, Stuart David is arguably better known as a musician than a writer, but his debut novel Nalda Said is one of the most-underrated Scottish novels of the last 20 years, and his memoir about his time in Belle & Sebastian, In The All Night Cafe is a must for any Scottish pop music fan. Now his latest novel, Peacock’s Alibi, is being published by Polygon, and SWH!’s very own Ali Braidwood will be in conversation with Stuart on the 15th to discuss the new book, the true story of Peacock Johnson, the Ian Rankin connection, and so much more. If you have a burning question you’ve always wanted to ask Stuart please come along as this is your chance to do so.

Peacock’s Alibi is published by Polygon Books, and you can hear Stuart and Karn David talking to the SWH! Podcast back in 2015. Continue reading

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

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The hope is always that our monthly music reviews offer something of interest to all, but, without wanting to go overboard (although, “Why stop now?”, you may ask), this has been perhaps the most enjoyable to put together due to so much good music being released in the last month. It may be the multivitamins talking, but it feels like this could be the best New Musical Success…ever!

It’s certainly been difficult to reach a final eight. There’s some great tracks which just missed out, but hopefully that makes the final cut all the better. Featuring firm SWH! favourites, and with the warmest of welcomes to old friends and new, if there is a unifying theme to the music featured it is one of hope in these most difficult of times, and that should gladden your heart. But enough of this preamble – let the hyperbole begin!

Regular readers will know that our love for all things L-Space knows no bounds. They are a band who seem incapable of making anything other than magical music – a place where classic electronic pop meets the future. Their sound is as much influenced by movie soundtracks as other bands, lending it an epic, expansive feel which makes them stand out from the crowd. With each new release they give a glimpse of what is promising to be a wonderful bigger picture in the shape of their first album, due to be released on Last Night From Glasgow later in the year.

The latest single ‘Suneaters’ is the perfect example of this. Sci-fi dream pop at its finest, while it stands alone as a great single, when added to what has gone before, and what is surely to come, it only confirms L-Space as a band to see us through tough times. I’m a believer:

Continue reading

Tsars On Sunday: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s From Russia With Love…

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As Boney M once exclaimed, “Oh those Russians”! Although this is Scots Whay Hae! my first literary loves are 19th century Russian writers, and I am a little obsessed with the culture of that place and time. This being the case, Scottish Opera and the National Opera Studio’s From Russia With Love, the latest of The Sunday Series of concerts. With libretti adapted from writers such as Pushkin and Gogol, and music from Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Prelude to ‘The Golden Cockerel’ set the tone with a caricatured Donald Trump, in the exagerated style of Terry Gilliam, on stage lending things a modern and satirical twist, something which carried on throughout. There were visceral scenes of torture reminiscent of a scene from Reservoir Dogs (‘Kashchey The Immortal’), references to #MeToo (‘The Bear’), and demonic possession in the style of the Ringu films, or even The Exorcist (‘Khovanshchina’). You may have an idea of what opera is, but Scottish Opera make you think again, regularly proving that they are one of the most innovative and impressive companies around. Continue reading