This is Louise Welsh’s debut novel and the first of her work I’ve read. That old cliché applies here, it won’t be the last. It’s great, up there with Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory. I’m biased that way and like things to be parochial and have resonance with people I know and places I recognise. The setting is just up the road, a square mile of Hyndland and Crow Road. Not may folk understand that Downhill is a place and not just a state of mind.
Rilke is the first person narrator. I recognised the name, but there’s not many Rilkes cutting about Clydebank. I had to google it. For those less savvy than myself, Rilke is an (obscure to me) Austrian poet. Byres Road Rilke is the type of guy, hitting middle age, and everything going downhill fast (but not that downhill). He looks like Nosferatu on a dark night. And that’s one of the kinda in-jokes. He’s gay and fancies Derek, but Derek wants to shoot him, not in real life, but on film.
Plots are for turnips but here it’s quite simple and complicated. Rilke works for an auction house. He’s asked by an old biddy to clear a house and sell everything. The ticking clock is he’s got to do it in a week. The gun to his head is the auction house is on its uppers and this sale could make or break them. Rose, his boss, tells him he needs to get the finger out. But Rilke’s finger is in many places it’s not supposed to be. With a few exceptions all the characters are brilliantly drawn. That’s the beauty of this book. McKindless (hint kind less or cruel to a cunting point) who owned the house in Hyndland and is ostensibly now dead has a collection of pornographic books in the attics and mementos that his spinster sister wants cleared out and burned. But Rilke finds photographs of something more sinister and evil. They seem to show McKindless documenting himself, with a few cronies, picture by picture, tableaux, of getting his sexual kicks by cutting a prostitute’s throat. This withered flower in the attic of the Gothic house is Rilke’s quest to find out the truth.
I won’t add a Taggert spoiler by telling you there’s been a murder. Read on.