Craig Robertson (2010) Random

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.     

Diana Wilson: 28/6/2020 RIP.

Diana and grand-kids, Danya and Leo.

Diana Wilson got allocated one of the new builds in Trafalgar Street, 2003-4. She was much the same age as Ricky Ross, Deacon Blue, and Dignity has become a bit of a naff-classic. In those days of the late 1950s a Daily Record cost 2d, now it cost 85p. You could buy a bungalow in Great Western Road and have change from £125. Black-and-white telly, but not for all. Most couldn’t afford it, even with Radio Rentals. Crowds flocked to new X-Ray Units, which was the next best thing – and free with the spanking new NHS. 25 000 test in one day, setting a new world record in a drive to beat tuberculosis. TB, remember that? Lots to do with lack of sanitation and overcrowding. ‘Real Gone Kid,’ Ricky knew about that. Falkirk won the Scottish Cup.  The game wasn’t even on the radio. The problem of over-crowding at fitba was being debated.  

The late summer of Diana’s life, after an overcrowded tenant block in Castle Street Dalmuir, and the old Trafalgar. New build. New start. New shiny Trafalgar for shiny new people that didn’t steal astroturf for their bedroom from the pitch nearby (ahem, a close neighbour).  I used to pass the back garden, real grass, and grandkids out the back—Danya and later Leo— staffie dog on the doorstep, keeping an eye on you through the metal railings. It was meant to be her son Tam’s dog, but it wasn’t daft it knew where it’s Kennomeat sandwiches weren’t buttered. Her car would be parked out the front. It didn’t go any further than Clydebank shopping centre, but it was proof she could drive, although she’d rather not. Children and animals were drawn to her because she was a Goodfellow, sometimes names ring true.  

Often there’d be familiar faces sitting in the garden, holding up a bottle of beer in a sunshine salute. Tam’s pals were also Diana’s pals. I’d run into them in the pub. And after listening to a Pickering wittering on for so long even the devil had went up the road for a sleep and hid his head under the blankets, Big Pat would ask, ‘whit was that about?’

I’d shrug, my ears had melted like wax to the side of my baldy head, and, to decompress, I’d go and talk to Wullie Dalziel because he knew everything.

But Diana Wilson, Diana Goodfellow, wasn’t a know-it-all; she was a listener. You could have a laugh, but you could also trust her with your secrets. Listeners are where love is. Children loved Diana because she listened. Dogs loved her because she was what love is. Her concern wasn’t for herself, but for others. Listeners know where you’re coming from.

The last time I saw Tam was about a month ago, in the shop we go to for papers and rolls, which used to be Ramjam’s, then Iffty’s and I’m not sure what it’s called now. I meant to ask Tam how his mum was, but I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t. Diana always made time for people. She would have asked about me and mine. I’m an open-mouthed grazer.  In biology there’s the notion of the keystone species. They play a critical role in the balance of ecological communities. Diana Wilson was a keystone species; she was a carer and listener. Her death doesn’t just leave her family—son and grandchildren—gutted, it deadens the water of our community and makes it a poorer and more poisonous place to live. Kindness was her religion. Sorely missed.  RIP