This book is a bit of set-up for a debut thriller writer. The tag on the front cover tells the would-be reader, ‘Six Victims, One Brutal Killer, No Rhyme, No Reason, No Mercy’. The hard-sell for crime fans. And in smaller font it tells you this guy is like Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. Wow, I say, I’ll need to read this, it’s been lying on my shelf, getting dusty for two years and when I read the first chapter it might have been another ten, because I don’t know who Mark Billingham is and if he writes like this, I don’t care. But then I read the book in one go. It took a few hours.
The background noise inside the book is motive. Why is this guy killing random people? What made it attractive for me was the setting – Glasgow.
The cops are the good guys, trying to capture the bad guy. But there’s also bad guys, trying to capture the killer, because he killed one of their own, a drug dealer. A loss of face, for an Arthur Thompson like kingpin, means somebody else needs to pay and loss their face too. Then you have the fourth estate, mainly the Daily Record, reporting on the case. (Craig Robertson was a former journalist, writing what he knows.)
I guess in all Tartan Noir there’s a bit of Laidlaw philosophising, about taking revenge and needing to dig two graves, one for the victim. Not having a pattern, is itself a pattern. Serial killers and the mistakes they’d made. The ones that got away, Bible John and Jack the Ripper. The narrator is called by the press, Jock the Ripper. One theory was the Ripper’s murder of prostitutes was a cover up, of his real motive, protecting someone higher up, perhaps a member of the Royal family. Nudge, nudge.
Family plays a big part in the narrator’s life, but we know he’s fucked up, but when he kills a lawyer, you get the feeling he kinda deserves it. But when he kills a newly married man, the narrator’s motive become blacker and twisted and when he sets out to stalk and kill a random teenage student in the pubs in Ashton Lane and ends up in the Twisted Thistle with a cop at his back, it seems justice has been served. That would have taken him too far into the dark side. He backs off.
The book gallops along at a fair pace. The narrator reading press reports, we the reader too can scan, word for word. He’s a pal on the inside of the gangster underworld that reports back to him the latest doings. We know the type. And as a taxi-driver he listens to what the people of Glasgow are saying about the killer they’re now calling The Cutter, because he takes a finger from each of his victims with a pair of secateurs and sends them to the press or to the police. He doesn’t take a finger from his last victim, but still manages to give the police and gangsters the finger.
Here’s where it goes a bit iffy. We know why he done it. We know how he done it, because he’s telling us his thoughts and feelings and we’re looking over his shoulder, seeing what he’s seeing, hearing what he’s hearing, smelling what he smells. You want me to paint a picture, pal? Unfortunately, that’s what Robertson does. The denouement is too protracted. Too many loose knots are tested and tied, even down the last, falling, prayer from the narrator’s lips. Less is more. Jesus wept. Read on.