THIS, the fourth novel from Scotland’s Gordon Ferris, is a pacey, engaging period thriller set in Glasgow in 1946. Our hero is Douglas Brodie, ex-police officer and veteran of the war against Hitler, now a budding crime journalist sought out by one time friend and later romantic rival Hugh Donovan. Donovan has been sentenced to the gallows for raping and murdering a young boy, but it is a crime he claims he didn’t commit.
Badly burned during his RAF service, Donovan now looks like “something stitched together by a one-handed seamstress”. Since his release from hospital he has become a heroin addict and a drug pusher, a gaunt figure in a dark coat skulking through the shadows. He is a man with no credibility in whose rooms the murdered boy’s bloodied clothes were found. What’s worse, in a drug-addled fugue he confessed to police.
Though the case seems “as watertight as a Clyde steamer”, Brodie is not a man to be discouraged. After all, he served as an interrogator of SS officers in the closing months of the war and, before that, as a Detective Sergeant on the Glasgow beat. Compelled to help Donovan, he allies himself with the condemned man’s advocate, Samantha Campbell, and together they trawl the mean streets of the city and the green hills of western Scotland in search of the truth.
The author’s portrait of post-war Glasgow is edgy and vivid. Its underbelly, the Gorbals slums, are “infested with razor-wielding gangs” and “as densely packed and aromatic as a giant box of herring”. The parks and walkways of the city are filled with ‘broken men getting tanked up on their own special brew’ and the fault lines of Catholic/Protestant tension are everywhere.
Against this backdrop, Brodie stands as a classic hardboiled detective, the type for whom an investigation is “a legitimate reason for a pub crawl”. He’s the kind of character who hates women weeping over him because it usually means he’s in deeper trouble than he imagined.
The book sounds real, which should be no surprise as Ferris, like Brodie, hails from the town of Kilmarnock, just some 20 miles or so from Glasgow.
There is a dry sense of humour running through the novel too, especially in Brodie’s Chandleresque inner monologue.
A sub-plot about gun-running to Ireland is perhaps one convolution too far, however this, the first in a promised series of Brodie novels, should otherwise tick all requisite boxes for readers in search of entertaining crime fiction.