Craig Robertson (2018) The Photographer

Craig Robertson (2018) The Photographer.

Craig Robertson publishes a novel every year, and the setting is Glasgow. Full of places I know and people that speak and think like me, it’s therefore much easier for me to like his work. Random, his debut novel, established him as a writer worth following.  This is the second of his novels I’ve read and, like its predecessor, it’s a page turner.

The setup is simple. There’s a bad guy out there. The Glasgow equivalent of John Worboys, the ‘Black-Cab’ rapist, who committed more than 100 sex crimes, before he was caught. This is a Glasgow in which Robert Louis Stephenson is quoted by forensics at a crime scene:

‘Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder. Certain old houses demand to be haunted.’  

The good guys are mostly women. Detective Inspector Narey leads the charge. She’s vulnerable having a baby at home while she does nightshifts at the local police station. But she’s got a sidekick, her husband, aptly named, Winter, a reporter on a Glasgow rag (author Craig Robertson was a reporter so authenticity is guaranteed). He’s conducting a parallel investigation into Richard Broome the suspect, and The Photographer, of the book’s title. He’s the serial rapist, possible murderer, they need to catch. Winter’s delving into the paper’s archives finds that over ninety people go missing in Scotland every day.


DI Narey has already arrested Broome, found his stash of photographs of over 100 women in Glasgow that have been stalked and their pictures taken without their knowledge, or consent. Stalked.  

Victims such as:

‘Leah Watt was twenty-seven going on fifty-five. Her premature aging wasn’t her fault.

Narey often found herself wishing that she’d known Leah before Broome wrecked her life, her confidence and her future. Everybody said that she was the heart and soul, a party girl with a big laugh and eyes that lit up a room. A personality stolen.

Broome’s modus operandi was consistent. ‘Jennifer,’ a victim tells rape counsellor Lainey,

‘I was raped. A man broke into my flat and raped me…

He just kept thumping me. Pounding his fist into my nose and cheek. Slag. Slag. Slag. Punch. Punch. Punch. I couldn’t see. Just heard the noise. Heard my nose breaking. My cheek being smashed.’

Lainey’s secret is she too was raped, by the same man and in the same brutal way. The police have been ineffectual. Lainey has been tracking similar cases to her own, and to ‘Jennifer’s’, she’s determined to find him.

Robertson plays with the genre of whodunnit. The reader knows who committed the crimes. The Photographer, Richard Broome, is identified early on as a women hater, with a sense of grievance and entitlement. He rapes them because they’re ‘slags’ and asking for it. He owns them, even though they don’t know it—yet.

But Richard Broome is not a black-cab driver. He’s a millionaire that owns his own hi-tech company. He hires a QC, ready and willing, to do his bidding, because he can, because of who he is. When the case against Broome collapses, he does not fade back into the dank gardens and murky houses, he goes on the attack. Narey and Winter and their child come under threat. Their middle-class sense of privilege and security comes under threat.

The least convincing part of the book is when Winter brings in his uncle, an ex-cop, to babysit them and their baby. The ex-cop goes online and tracks down the women haters, the trolls and cyberwarriors wanking in their bedroom and outs them. A lead into Broome’s misogynistic cult.

And while Broome as an arch villain, the kind that might well have been elected to the Presidency of the United States, hung together before sliding into stereotype, his mother as victim, didn’t ring true. But, hey, this is fiction. A great read. Read on.    

Alan Parks (2017) Bloody January

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I read the review of Bloody February in The Observer and it’s like deja-fuck-you, somebody had wrote the song that you wrote and sings it better. Set in Glasgow, in the 1970s. My turf and my time and my subject matter.  This book fucking scared me big time. I was scared this book would be everything I was not. Leading writers of Scottish noir praise Bloody January on the cover.

Ian Rankin, Alex Gray, Peter May and Louise Welsh, ‘Bloody and brilliant’.

Here’s where I got to, Chapter Seven, p51.

Funny smell in here,’ said Wattie.

‘Shut it,’ said McCoy.

The waiter took their coats as Wattie looked around suspiciously. A big blown-up photo of an Indian market filled one wall. Windows overlooking the Kelvin making its slow and muddy way through the city the other.

I know Gibson Street. But I’m not sure about the last sentence, which makes me, I guess, a plonker. Windows are walls and the Kelvin is muddy. The real McCoy and his sidekick, Wattie. A whodunit.

I care too much. It’s not Alan Parks’s fault I’ve picked him and his books as a kind of Rorschach-Inkblot test.

I don’t write whodunnits. I write about us, or like to think I do. Whydunnits (that nobody wants to read or publish, perhaps for good reason). Nobody writes in the same way, because its like forensics, like fingerprints, and nobody sees the same things. Especially, if you are a nobody. We both look for the extraordinary in ordinary working- class experiences.

Remembering is not a monopoly experience. Axons and dendrites do not recreate our past, but remake it. We rewrite our own lives in different ways, encrypting each word and sentence as we go with a sense of self. Pieces of life are never whole and always blemished.

A writer’s job is to highlight those blemishes and to give them to his characters. Parks’s characters to me are clichéd and therefore untrue.

Books are holy things and in the black stone of rubble the writer must make flowers grow. Doesn’t happen.

The invisible world is our world. Listen with your eyes. See with your heart. No sound, no sight and no heart.

Parks opens a lens to the past. Sight, sound, colour and the writing of wrongs. Not for me, but we all see the world differently, write the world differently. Bloody hell.  Read on.