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.     

The Murder of Jill Dando, BBC 1 and BBC iPlayer, directed by Marcus Plowright

jill dando.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003w40/the-murder-of-jill-dando

There seems to be a plethora of anniversaries and murder reconstructions on all of the main channels. We’ve had the Bulger, The Yorkshire Ripper and Jack the Ripper recently and before that Fred and Rose West. The list goes on. Partly, I’d guess to the world-wide success of The Making of a Murderer.  BBC couldn’t let the twentieth anniversary, 26th April 1999, of one of its own, the presenter of the Holiday programme, Crimewatch UK and The Six O’Clock News, without a commemorative mock-up of the main actors, talking heads and what we know about the killer. The Queen commented on Jill’s death as did the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The police were under enormous pressure to bring the killer to justice. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hamish Campbell, who led the investigation, features in the programme. He tells us how he came to identify Barry George as a suspect, how he came to be convicted of Jill Dando’s murder in June 2001 and released on appeal seven years later after the UK High Court ordered a retrial and the Court of Appeal found the forensic evidence in the case ‘inconclusive’.

The presenter Nick Ross, who appeared alongside Jill Dando in Crimewatch, said, he’d also have acquitted Barry George.

Yet, we have DCI Campbell, giving the impression he got the right man. The evidence was circumstantial. After five months, the police were getting nowhere and had spent over two million pounds on the investigation. A tip had come from Hafad Taxi Company that someone, later identified as Barry George, had been acting strangely on the day Dando was killed. Six months later he was still acting strangely. A warrant and search of his house found that he’d filmed women, kept a log of car numbers and had press cuttings of Jill Dando. He also has a three-quarter length coat.

I must admit to also having a three-quarter length coat. My partner Mary hates it and wants to give it to the Salvation Army of some other charitable institute. But I’m quite oddly attached to it.  I was never a suspect in Dando’s killing.

Let’s get to the forensics on which the case was won and lost. Locard’s principle, sounds very much like Sherlock Holmes’, ‘every contact leaves a trace’.  A single particle of gunshot residue was found in the three-quarter length coat Barry George admitted to wearing. To describe it as gunshot residue is to place Barry George in the coat and have him pull the trigger and shoot Jill Dando on the doorstep. Such is the power of forensic evidence to captive a jury and convict Barry George.

Remember the newspaper headlines ‘Auntie Annie’s bomb-making factory’ associating trace elements of nitroglycerine with the Maguire Seven. Trace elements that were found in handling an ordinary pack of playing cards.

A single particle of gunshot residue would have to be magnified around 2000 times before it was the size of a pea. How else could it have got into Barry George’s pocket? Someone handling guns, perhaps a policeman, could have brushed against him on public transport.

The Crown won and lost its case on a single particle of evidence. Barry George in Scottish law would be found Not Proven. The hunt for Jill Dando’s killer goes on – only it doesn’t. The police have no new leads.  Case closed.