You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket: A Review Of Louise Hutcheson’s The Paper Cell…

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The novella is a form of writing which has fallen out of favour in recent times, and that’s as bewildering as it is unfortunate. We are constantly told that there is little appetite for epic fiction (fantasy aside). If you happen to have a novel on the go at the moment there is a good chance it is between 60-80,000 words long, something which is as much about finance as fashion.

Another trend from the last ten years has been the happy resurgence of the short story which is once more being taken seriously, especially in Scottish literature with Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales all featuring in the recent Books Of The Year lists. If the trend is towards shorter fiction in general, whither the novella?

It has a laudable tradition – longer than a short story but much more than simply “a short novel”, the best of them stand up against any writer’s longer work. Think of James Joyce’s The Dead, Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange – these are among the finest works of fiction ever written, yet some may continue to think of novellas as somehow a lesser literary form, as if quality is measured in quantity. If you are one of those you are missing out as well as wrong. Often concerned with a single idea or theme, novellas are tightly written and edited – clear in thought, intention and narrative.

Louise Hutcheson’s debut is The Paper Cell, and I am going to claim it is in that tradition. It seems no coincidence that the Scottish novella it is closest to in tone and content is Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam, and, like that book, it sits more easily in a recognisably European literary tradition than a Scottish one.  The other text I was put in mind of is Albert Camus’ The Stranger, (which explicitly gets a mention in The Paper Cell). Like both of those Hutcheson has written a “whydunit?” rather than being overly concerned with “who” as all three present a death which is foretold from the beginning and the reader is then left to try to work out not only the reasons for it, but the motivations driving the central protagonists.

In The Paper Cell that protagonist is Lewis Carson, a publishing assistant who becomes famous with a manuscript which belongs to someone else. It raises the question, “How far would you go for success?”. It’s a question as old as art itself, or at least commercial art. A short cut to a sure-fire hit is a temptation which is hard to ignore. Lewis Carson wants to be identified as a “novelist”. Whether he has the talent to be one is secondary to him. The Paper Cell is a reminder that what we love and what we desire may be different things, but the lines can be blurred and dangerously so.

As this is also a story which deals with the passing of time (it moves between 1953 and 1998) it is also reflects how an individual’s morality and drives change as well. Carson’s sin becomes his cross to bear, and while sympathy for him is most definitely a struggle I doubt there will be many who can’t empathise with a decision made in youthful haste which still pricks your conscience years later, and perhaps will for ever. “Be careful what you wish for” has rarely seemed so apt.

There’s a Noel Coward song called ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs Worthington’, which warns a mother about letting her daughter go into show business. A reader of The Paper Cell may think twice about letting their loved-ones get involved in publishing. There is betrayal, bitchiness, cruelty, debauchery, and that’s before there is any suggestion of death. From lust to pride and back again, all the deadly sins are present and correctThe characters are mostly beyond redemption, which of course makes them utterly captivating.

With The Paper Cell Louise Hutcheson has written a book which is literate, literary, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining. It is not your average crime fiction, whatever that may be, and if this is a sign of things to come from the Contraband Pocket Crime Collection then it will be worth collecting. Once again Saraband and Contraband have shown that they are willing to think outside the box and publish fiction which may struggle to find a home elsewhere as it isn’t easily defined or categorised, and we should be thankful for that.

I’m honoured to be hosting the launch of The Paper Cell at Waterstones in Byres Road on the 23rd of June (7.30pm), and it would be great to see you there.

Spoken Word & Music: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Andrew Greig…

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For the latest podcast, Ali headed to Edinburgh to talk to poet, writer and musician, Andrew Greig. The first topic of conversation is Clean By Rain, the CD of spoken word and music Andrew has recorded with musician Brian Michie.

As you’ll hear, music has always been very important to Andrew, providing the sparkUnknown-1.jpeg which lead him into writing, and this latest project (& his next) provide a wonderful symmetry to his life so far.

The two also talk about his poetry and prose, particularly his debut novel, Electric Brae, and a favourite of Ali’s, Fair Helen, which prompts an unexpected musical interlude. It was an absolute pleasure talking to Andrew (right), and we hope you experience similar feelings while listening to what he has to say.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast 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…

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..or on YouTube:

Our next podcast will be with you soon, so keep ’em peeled…

A Life In Pictures: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Alasdair Gray & Kevin Brown…

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The latest podcast is a fascinating conversation with two previous guests, the writer and artist, Alasdair Gray, and the driving force behind Songs For Scotland, Kevin Brown,

Kevin is curating ALASDAIR GRAY’s Life in Pictures: the Exhibition. Paintings, Drawings and Prints, 1951 – 2017 (27 July 2017 – 12 August 2017), which will feature a selection of Alasdair’s art at London’s Coningsby Gallery, and he tells us all about the what, why, when and where’s.

Alasdair discusses at length the trials and tribulations of his previous exhibitions, how many contemporaries felt the pull of London, what inspired him to illustrate his writing, the importance of protecting public art, and much, much more. He even gives us some insight into his latest project, a very personal take on Dante’s Divine Comedy. This is a rare chance to hear one of Scotland’s greatest artists talking in some detail about his life in pictures.

As always, it was a pleasure to spend time in both men’s company, and we hope you feel the same way.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast 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…

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..or on YouTube:

And below is just a selection of Alasdair’s work available to view and buy at the exhibition, but you can find the full catalogue here and see other examples of Alasdair’s work on his website.

super-3super-1super-2super-4.jpegThe next podcast is coming soon and is with the poet, writer and musician, Andrew Greig. I promise you it’s a belter.

Principle Players: A Review Of J. David Simons’ A Woman Of Integrity…

DSC_0447.jpgRunning two narratives throughout a novel can be risky. They have to be distinct and equally engaging or readers will rush through one to get back to their prefered story.  It’s a delicate balancing act but when it works, as with Ajay Close’s recent The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth, then it gives you two stories for the price of one, each of which feed into and enhance the other.

J. David Simon’s latest novel, A Woman Of Integrity, gets the balance right as he moves between the early-mid years of the last century and the present day. Both narrative strands concentrate on women fighting to keep their dignity and self-respect and struggling to achieve their aims and ambitions in the face of mostly, but not exclusively, male betrayal, prejudice and deceit. As the book unfolds Simons makes social and cultural comparisons between the two ages, and it becomes clear that the more things have changed the more they have stayed the same.

We first meet Laura, an actress who has just been unceremoniously dumped by her agent and who believes her career is, if not very nearly over, then very really over. At a dinner-party held by an old-friend and rival (the two often one and the same in her world) she is offered the chance of her dream role, to play a Hollywood silent-movie star who went on to become someone who, through an extraordinary life, helped define the 20th century. Her name is Georgie Hepburn, and we learn about her as Laura does while she researches her life, loves, highs and lows.

It transpires that Georgie is a woman who refused to be ignored or controlled, despite many trying to do so. When the promise of an even greater film career is offered her, what begins with a request to change her name is just the thin edge of an increasingly exploitative wedge as people who view her as a possession rather than an individual look to take advantage at every turn. As a result her acting career is halted in a manner more cruel even than that of Laura, but the latter sees comparisons between the two and as the novel continues so do we. Learning of Georgie’s experiences and challenges inspires Laura who becomes determined that only she can do this increasingly personal project justice.

Similarly, Laura finds she is being used and discarded, often at the same time. Her enthusiasm for playing Georgie is exploited by those whose agendas are equally personal. The difference is they are looking out for themselves whereas Laura is, arguably perhaps, putting Georgie’s story first.

Each age is depicted with references which help create the perfect setting. This is perhaps easier for Georgie’s story, but even then Simons’ forgoes the obvious for the more interesting. Battleship Potemkin, the classic age of jazz, Hitchcock, Novello, Chaplin, and a reading of a menu from The Savoy Grill, are all referenced to immediately take the reader to a time and place.

The references to the present day are more arch and humorous, such as Laura’s lucrative work as the voice of a cartoon crab. The dinner party, where she is placed between Fredrik, a Swede who claims to be able to predict at what age someone will die, and Sal Yerkshaw, a documentary film maker and theatre producer, could be straight from a Woody Allen film. Then there’s the Californian lifestyle of Laura’s great love, actor Jack Muirhead, who is the living embodiment of a Vanity Fair cover star. Simons’ has a great eye for those little things which lend the bigger picture a believability it may not have had otherwise.

I should mention the supporting cast. Both women come into contact with a fantastic coterie of characters who would not be out-of-place in a John Irving novel. For Laura, there is the aforementioned Sal who sells her the idea of the project in the first place, but there is also Quentin, the keeper of Georgie’s memory but with ambitions of his own. Lady Caroline is Laura’s life long nemesis who sees herself as in competition with Laura despite appearing to have a life which many would envy, and then there is her New York ex-agent, Edy Weinberg, who is the latest addition to the grand tradition of great fictional Hollywood agents.

Georgie comes into contact with people with names such as Max Rosen, Hubert Hoffsteter and Roland Paxton-Jones (“Call me Rollo”), lending her world a touch of P.G. Wodehouse or the Mitford sisters, but it’s the support of her Aunt Ginny, and her god-daughter Susan, which means the most to Georgie, especially as time goes by. There are not many people in either woman’s world who have not got some hidden, or even blatant, agenda so when such characters do appear it is refreshing.

It will be no surprise to long-term readers of Scots Whay Hae! that I rate A Women Of Integrity highly as Simons’ earlier novel An Exquisite Sense Of What Is Beautiful (to which there are lovely nods in this latest) remains one of my favourites of the last ten years. Never flashy or sensational for the sake of it, Simons imbues his stories with wit, intelligence and an attention to detail, of which other writers would do well to take note. A novel of great style as well as substance, fiction as accessible as this is rare and I can’t imagine someone reading A Women Of Integrity and not thoroughly enjoying it.

A Woman Of Integrity is published by Freight Books and you can discover their full catalogue on the website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Live & Let Die: A Review Of C.F. Peterson’s Errant Blood…

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There are few things better than discovering a new writer who fills a gap in your life and on your bookshelves that you hadn’t realised needed filling. From early on, reading C.F. Peterson‘s novel Errant Blood felt like I was with the latest from a favourite writer. There was something reassuringly familiar about the style and content which made me feel in safe hands. That impression proved correct as themes of family, mortality, morality, love, and betrayal are examined in a fresh and invigorating manner.

I’ll be upfront about the main reason for this familiarity for me. Errant Blood is, at its best, reminiscent of Iain Banks, and I do not say that lightly. Banks is one of my favourite writers and it’s rare for me to raise his name when reviewing. Expectations are set high as I understand implicitly what that means, but in this case the comparison is unavoidable. There is a central character returning home who has a past, present and possibly a future to deal with. There are familial secrets and lies, childhood friendships and events which shape adult lives, local and historic fueds to be faced, criminals who demand satisfaction, and a second story strand which at first appears unrelated. All of these are motifs which could be found in the work of Banks, and Errant Blood reminded me of just what I have been missing.

However, I am not for a moment suggesting that Errant Blood is simply a facsimile of an Iain Banks’ novel – that would be completely unfair. Peterson takes these tropes in new directions – there is a dreamlike feel in places, a love for anagrams and word play, as well as cultural in-jokes (two detectives are named John Maclean and William Boyd). There is also a black sense of humour in evidence which is all Peterson’s own.

The central character is Eamon Ansgar, who is returning to the family home (or castle) in the Highland village of Duncul from time spent fighting in the hostile regions of Afghanistan and the City Of London. Part of his reason for this homecoming is to shut himself away from the world, but the world won’t listen. Ghosts of his past come to haunt him, but some of them mean him very real harm. It’s always difficult to review a thriller and avoid giving plot spoilers away, but I can safely say there is murder, drugs, the appearance of old flames, and land disputes. If you didn’t know this was written by a Scot before you started reading then all the clues are there.

Where Peterson really shines is with his ensemble ‘cast’. Heroes and villains are present but not so correct. The former are flawed, and at least one of the latter is prone to an existential crisis of conscience. And then there is Rona, a local girl who represents both hope and regret for Eamon. We are never told explicitly their past, but that is because I doubt either of them know for sure themselves what did or did not happen.  It reads like the sort of relationship with has been mythologised through time and distance to mean more than either of them can really understand.

Meanwhile there is the epic journey of an African immigrant, the strange crew of Rage III, a 50-foot yacht making its way north, the mysterious past of local ‘eccentric’ Stevie Van, and criminals, hoods and assassins of various shapes and sizes (and nationalities). It all makes for one of the most gripping reads of this year or last. Errant Blood heralds the appearance of an entertaining and thought-provoking new voice in Scottish writing – one who knows how to keep the reader turning the page. Make room on your shelves for C.F Peterson as the good news is this is planned as the first book in a series, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Errant Blood is published by Scotland Street Press, and you can find out more about their current and back catalogue by visiting the website or by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Crime Time: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Writer Douglas Skelton…

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In the latest podcast, Ali and Ian met up with writer Douglas Skelton, initially to talk about his Dominic Queste novels, The Dead Don’t Boogie and Tag – You’re Dead, but the discussion touched upon so much more.

They talk about Douglas’s ‘Davie McCall’ series of novels, his non-fiction, the importance of secondary characters, Glasgow’s fascination with crime, the influencv_bjIISIe of the novels of Ed McBain, Shane, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the greatest TV show of all time (TM) – Hill Street Blues.

As you would expect, if you have read Skelton’s recent work, there are plenty of cultural references and enough “film buffery” to keep everyone happy, or at the very least the people in the room.

Douglas knows of that which he writes as he has done the hard research for real-life crime books such as Glasgow’s Black Heart and Dark Heartand as such the podcast is a must hear for anyone with an interest in crime writing, but will also appeal to a much wider audience, just as Douglas Skelton’s novels do.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast 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…

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..or on YouTube:

Our next podcast will be with you soon, so keep ’em peeled…

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

a3916926716_16Every summer needs a great soundtrack, and this year’s starts right here and now. The following review is an eclectic mix which includes the welcome return of the firmest of favourites when it comes to indie-pop, melancholic electronic beauty, harmonies to die for, potential global pop/rock anthems, singer/songwriting at its very finest, and some intriguing spoken word from one of Scotland’s best writers. If you don’t find something for you then you might just be in the wrong place, but trust me…you will.

We are going to start with the welcome return of BMX Bandits with their album Forever. For the last 30 years their music has been, in this ever-changin’ world in which we live in, one of the few things on which you can rely. The BMX Bandits have been responsible for so many great songs and records that some may be in danger of taking them for granted. Let’s not, as this is music which is timeless and to be treasured.

From the opener ‘My Girl Midge’ we are back in Duglas T. Stewart’s world where love is looked at from all angles – on-high, down-low, and everywhere in-between. It’s where hopeless romantics have their hearts mended, broken, and mended once more to a soundtrack with melodies which Bacharach and David would die for, and with Chloe Philip’s vocals and keyboards adding another dimension to make the music even richer. Other highlights are ‘Love Me ‘Til My Heart Stops’, ‘How Not To Care’, a wonderful version of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and the beautiful ‘That Lonely Feeling’ which you can hear right here and now. Out now, BMX Bandits’ Forever is already one of the albums of the year. Don’t miss out:

The best things in life are worth the wait, and that is certainly true of music from Shards. They are Errant Media‘s Sean Ormsby and Stephen McLaren, (whose ‘We Used To Go Raving’ appeared in February’s round-up). Last year we spoke to them both on the SWH! podcast about the label and their music. Their individual projects are always memorable, but together as Shards they never fail to produce something special. Playing their own brand of ‘melancholitronica’, the latest release is ‘Headland’, and it’s just gorgeous – slowly building from relatively simple electronic loops to become something verging on the elegiac by the time it ends. It’s a song which sends you straight back to the beginning to listen all over again. More of this sort of thing, I say:

We are currently blessed in this country with great singer/songwriters. Rachel Sermanni, Mark W Georgsson, Michael Cassidy, and Conor Heafey to name just a very few. Siobhan Wilson deserves her place at the top of any such list. Her latest single ‘Whatever Helps’ hints at even greater things to come. Reminiscent of some of my favourite singers – Kristen Hersh, Liz Phair, Natalie Merchant, and Louise Quinn – the music is indie-power pop at its finest. While ‘Whatever Helps’ is without question a fantastic track it is only part of the story, as anyone who has seen Wilson play live will attest. If you haven’t then you’ll get the chance when she plays Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Jun 30th, supported by The Great Albatross’s A. Wesley Chung. It will give you proof, if my word isn’t good enough, that Siobhan Wilson is proving to be one of the most interesting musicians around:

Talking of The Great Albatross, sometimes you come across a band and their music reminds you why it is important to always search for something new (which I hope we help you do). You may think you’ve heard it all, but then something will come your way which will unexpectedly and violently remove your hosiery. Such a record is their album Asleep In The Kaatskills. It immediately sounds like a release from one of your favourite bands, then you realise you now have a new one of those. It’s got an Americana feel, as the name suggests, similar to the music of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Richard  Buckner, and even Howe Gelb in places, and you’ll rarely hear me give higher praise than that. I love this record so much it almost hurts me to share it in case it doesn’t mean as much to you. But I have faith:

For all I am a fan of the understated, it’s rare and refreshing to discover a band who are unashamedly grand in their ambitions and sound. Medicine Men are one such band – energetic, angry and in your face, but obviously in love with the music they make. If the world was fair they should be huge as they remain just unusual and experimental enough to make them stand out from the crowd and keep things interesting for everyone. They remind me of Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call era Simple Minds, which is a very good thing in case you were in any doubt. But hear for yourself, and you can catch them live at Glasgow’s Nice N Sleazys on 27th May when they launch their album Into The Light. This is ‘Out Of The Light’:

I mentioned The Miss’s in March’s musical review, but I make no excuses for doing so again. Their album Crash is full of great songs played by people who have put their heart and soul into them. Exhibit B, so to speak, is ‘I Am’, an irresistable piece of music with a strength of message and purpose which is visceral. Surely I’ve made it clear –  Crash is an album you’ll cherish long after other records from 2017 have long since slipped your mind.

Andrew Greig is best known to Scots Whay Hae! as a poet and author, whose novel Fair Helen was one of the best of 2014. He is also involved in making music, and the album Clean By Rain is a musical and spoken word travelogue of Scotland, but is as much a comment on the state of the nation as it is geographical guide. The link below is for the track ‘Shetland – If’, but you really need to listen to the whole thing to get the big picture.

The music is by Brian Michie, and it is reminiscent in places of early Brian Eno and Harold Budd, but with more acoustic instruments and folk, prog, and even easy-listening influences in evidence. Listened to in one sitting, as it should be, Clean By Rain becomes hypnotic and dream-like as Greig weaves his tales of everyday life into this rich and emotive musical backdrop:

Andrew Greig & Brian Michie – Shetland – If

That’s all for now. I told you there would be something for you.

La Isla Bonita: A Review Of The Book Of Iona: An Anthology…*

 

DSC_0432If you didn’t know that Robert Crawford, the editor of The Book Of Iona: An Anthology, was one of the foremost academics in the field of Scottish writing you would soon guess. There is an academic rigour in evidence, married to what feels like a literary obsession, which is admirable and initially perhaps a little daunting. The writing includes poetry, prose, essays and other non-fiction, and stretches from the sixth century to the twenty-first, including works in Latin and Gaelic as well as Scots and English. In my ignorance, I believed an anthology of writing focusing on Iona would be a thin tome, but this is not only a comprehensive collection, but also eclectic and expansive. Crawford has not restricted himself and, as a good editor should, he has been brave and bold in his decisions.

A quick look at the contents pages offers up modern and contemporary writers such as Candia McWilliam, Edwin Morgan, Mick Imlah, David Kinloch, and Meg Bateman, as well as work from Crawford himself. It is in the present day writing that my own highlights from the anthology are to be found. Alice Thompson’s ‘Hologram’ is a slice of magical realism, which, like the anthology, is run through with religion, philosophy, and mysticism. Sara Lodge’s ‘The Grin Without A Cat’ is about obsession and art, and is such a sensual piece of writing as to be tangible. It is possibly the best short story I have read this year.

But the more eye-catching, and dare I say interesting, names whose work appears in The Book Of Iona are those from the past, many of whom are as unexpected as they are exciting. Adomnan was an Abbot of Iona Abbey and is best known as the biographer of St Columbus, the Irish monk who set up a monastery on the island in 563AD, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his work appears. The presence of Scottish literary legends Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Buchanan and James Boswell are arguably even more predictable, but welcome all the same as they include lesser-known work by all.

However, my eye was immediately drawn to writing by William Wordsworth, John Keats, Thomas Pennant, Herman Melville, and even Queen Victoria. Crawford allows us just a glimpse of ‘how others see us’, and this is not only informative for this collection, but is something of which other editors of such anthologies should take note. Writers writing about home are only half the picture. A visitor’s viewpoint is just as valid. Crawford’s own poem ‘Iona’, and the fact it sits across the page from one ascribed to the aforementioned Saint Columba, lends the collection a nice symmetry, bringing together the past and the present as well as the editor and earliest named contributor.

It so happened that while reading The Book Of Iona I began another anthology of Scottish writing, one that is also based on place, Umbrellas Of Edinburgh: Poetry and Prose Inspired by Scotland’s Capital City. While quite individual undertakings, it is informative to consider the two together and what they tell us about a wider national literature. The capital city and one of Scotland’s more remote islands – in these two places extremes meet, and anthologies such as these help give us a clearer and more insightful picture of Scotland than we had previously. The Book Of Iona shows just what an anthology can achieve when approached with an open mind and imagination.

*A version of this review first appeared in Gutter Magazine.

Lying Live & Singing True: A Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Extra – The Launch Of Ten Writers Telling Lies…

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The latest podcast is a sister to our recent interview with Pat & Jim Byrne and Samina Chaudry about Ten Writers Telling Lies. It’s a live recording from the launch of the book at Cottiers Theatre featuring readings from many of the writers as well as music from Jim and Graham Mackintosh. We were going to edit it down but soon realised we couldn’t leave any one or any song out, so this is the full director’s cut.

If you’d like a copy of the book and the accompanying CD you can buy them here.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. You can also download it by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen below on SoundCloud

 

If you missed the launch the ‘Ten Writers’ are going to be doing other events throughout the year, the first of which is at Glasgow’s CCA on the 9th May. In the meantime, here are some images from the Cottiers launch…

Our next podcast is shaping up to something special, and will hopefully be with you soon…

Return Of The Craic: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s Tag – You’re Dead…

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Among the more welcome returns in 2017 is that of Glasgow detective Dominic Queste in Douglas Skelton’s new novel, Tag – You’re Dead. If you read last year’s The Dead Don’t Boogie (which was one of our Books Of 2016) you’ll have been looking forward to this since turning the last page. If you didn’t that won’t affect your enjoyment of Tag – You’re Dead which works equally well as a stand-alone thriller. But you should.

That’s not to say that this novel is simply a retelling of the first. Genre fiction has some recognisable tropes which are expected, and which are part of the appeal, but Skelton manages to play with those themes and ideas while at the same time adhering to them. However, where The Dead Don’t Boogie was, at least in terms of plot, a detective and gangster novel, here Skelton introduces no little amount of horror, with a faceless killer on the loose with a taste for mind-games, torture, classical music, and possibly steak pies.

There are clues as to where Skelton is taking a story with the references he uses. In the previous novel they were mainly there to establish the character of Dominic Queste, with plenty of nods to Philip Marlowe and other noir fiction and movies. Those are still present, but the references are widened to include (amongst many others) Halloween, ScreamSilence Of The Lambs and Fallen to prove that Queste is as much pop-culture nerd as he is tough-guy gumshoe – in fact the former has a direct influence on the latter. He is creating his own persona in a manner not too far from The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, except Dominic Queste really commits to the role.

Spotting the cultural references is one of the great pleasures when reading Skelton’s work. You may not get them all, but there is undoubtedly another level of enjoyment when you do, in a similar way as there is with a Brett Easton Ellis novel or Quentin Tarantino’s movies. This is culturally literate writing. The writer is not showing off but having fun, and that translates to the reader. While keeping the tension ramped up there is always something else going on.

Perhaps oddly – and bear with me on this – Tag – You’re Dead also put me in mind of The Guardians Of The Galaxy movies in that you have a wise cracking central character who can’t keep himself from making the smart one-liner even when he is aware it is likely to get him a doing or worse, except I don’t think they ever refer to it as “a doing” in the Marvel Universe.

But, as with that franchise, this second outing sees the support cast come more into their own; the dangerous but oddly adorable Sutherland brothers – (the Hairy Bikers with more violent tendencies – slightly), Father Verne, a modern-day Spencer Tracy in Boy’s Town who is not averse to using his fists to protect his flock, and Ginty, who refuses to be thought of as anyone’s moll, no matter how much Queste may wish it. Add a coterie of police and thieves, all of whom retain their own personalities where they could have become amorphous, and you realise you are in the hands of a writer who understands the genre completely, but understands human nature equally well.

And that’s what makes these novels stand apart – the characterisation. For all the quotes, smart dialogue, references and in-jokes, Skelton has managed to pull of a very difficult feat of giving us depictions of people who could have been two-dimensional stereotypes but who work individually, and are even better as a whole. Despite their flaws and failings, and partly because of them, you care what happens and want to know what happens next.

The Dead Don’t Boogie introduced us to a memorable new star of Scottish crime fiction, but Tag – You’re Dead takes what Douglas Skelton started with that book and dials everything up to 11. Funnier, wittier, darker and more dangerous than its predecessor, it is a novel which dares you to put it down and wins every time.

The Glasgow launch for Tag – You’re Dead is at the Argyle St Waterstones, Thursday night (4th May), 7-8.30pm.