As with THE STORM WITHOUT, Tony Black seems at his most comfortable writing about real people, or at least guys who aren’t cops. I love the Rob Brennan books, don’t get me wrong, but Black is at his most comfortable dealing with people who really have to deal with consequences.
This is no exception. Written with an easy, first person narration, the book seems deceptively straight forward at first, but soon enough we learn we can’t trust anyone, not even our narrator, Jed Collins.
Jed’s out of jail, you see, but he’s not turned his back completely on his old life. Soon enough he’s involved with Gail, a wild-child who’s definitely bad news. But her father’s even worse. He’s Robbie Silva, and he’s got a business proposition for Jed. The kind you probably can’t refuse.
Black hits the ground running with this tight novella that never wastes a word. As ever, his use of Scottish slang errs on the side of less is more and as such feels real and grounded. In fact, dialogue is one of Black’s strong suits, and here he uses it to quickly identify our dangerous cast.
As the book progresses, we find ourselves in real noir territory, everyone fighting to keep their heads above the shit that they created. A bank job gone wrong is just the beginning of Jed’s troubles, and soon enough its apparent no one’s agenda is what it appears.
In lesser hands, this book could have been three times the length with half the impact. But Black wisely keeps his word count short, and the result is a baseball bat to the belly. This is raw stuff, and the kind of writing that earned Black the honour of being Irvine Welsh’s favourite crime writer. Black has always gone where Rebus and Rankin fear to tread, really pushing into the back alleys of Edinburgh , and once more he has come back to us with a tale of divided loyalties and broken dreams. Black’s Scotland is a dangerous place, and without the stabilising influence of the cops, it seems even more bleak and desperate. But therein lies its appeal: we may not want the lives of these characters, but we can’t look away as they get dragged deeper into a darkness of their own creation.
If you’re looking for the real noir, then in Scotland at least, its name is Black.
Russel D McLean for crimescenescotland, 16/01/13