Inside the front door of the building, I checked the directory, looking to see which floor the firm was on, only to find that they used all of it. The recession hadn’t reached this far up the street. The reception area was decorated in muted shades of black and tan. Anything that didn’t share that colour scheme was made of glass. A woman who was far too young and far too skinny greeted me. She took my name and waved me into a large waiting area.
She didn’t whisper that she was a child slave or beg for help.
She didn’t ask if I could sneak her a cheeseburger.
So we are just dropped into the action here, no background, no setup, no idea who this guy narrating things is -- the very definition of in media res, and, come to think of it -- we are also dropped into the very definition of coitus interruptus. In this particular case the interruptus takes the form of a couple of guys trying to kill our narrator. Somehow, Mackie (the narrator) escapes -- though injured -- and seeks shelter at his Uncle's place -- which turns out to have been recently tossed by persons unknown (the people that came after Mackie?), and his Uncle Rab is nowhere to be found. Mackie gets patched up by his therapist and the two head out to search for Rab.
Once that's underway, we jump back a couple of hours in time to meet our second narrator, Sam Ireland. Sam's a newish Private Investigator who made a little splash in the news recently and is working enough to keep going, but not enough to pay rent on the office. So the office is now her apartment. It's her father's firm, but he's in a retirement home and Sam's trying to keep it alive -- with a little help from her brother. Sam's got an appointment with a potential new client, who insists on very strange meeting times (e.g., 11:23) -- it's the law office described in the quotation above. They'd read about her in the papers and wanted to hire her for some things, but first they want a test run -- they'd like her to deliver some legal papers to a local celebrity author. As Sam says "...a Glasgow celebrity. . . is one way of saying dangerous." He's writing true crime memoirs now, and there's a problem with his latest book so they need to serve him with papers -- but can't find him, can Sam? For the price they're willing to pay, yes, yes she can. The celebrity's name? Rab Anderson.You begin to see the fun here.
It turns out that our third narrator, DI Lambert, also has a vested interest in finding Rab. But there's the tiny little thing called a job that is interfering. There's a suspicious death that he really wants to write off as a suicide, but the guys from the Lab won't let him. He also has connections to our other narrators. He's a friend of Sam's and will occasionally bend a rule or two to help her with some information. He'd also arrested Mackie some years back on a pretty serious charge.
The novel is told bouncing back and forth through each of these narrators (sometimes the same scene is retold from a different perspective) -- there's a little bit of shifting back and forth through time to keep everyone at about the same point, but it's easy to follow. Each of these narrators has a great and distinctive voice -- you really don't need the chapters to tell you who is "speaking" you get it within a sentence (not that I mind the help). I could easily read an entire novel from one of their perspectives -- Lambert's wouldn't be as entertaining as either Mackie's or Sam's, but it'd still hold up. Bringing these three voices -- from radically different backgrounds, education, age, experience, vocation -- but all representing Glasgow. Mackie's a great, great character -- he's the first we get to know in this book, and in many ways, he's the heart. But Sam's the star -- she's stubborn, reckless, clever, and resourceful. That doesn't quite make up for the fact that she's a small woman with little ability to defend herself -- but she frequently has her large brother along to offset that.
One of my favorite parts of John Wick was how we're dropped into this extensive underground world with relationships, rules, alliances and whatnot -- as the film goes on we grow to understand them. Something very similar is at work in this novel -- we don't have a point of entry character, really (Sam's close), we have nothing really to get us oriented in this reality other than what happens when the characters interact and what we learn from that. This is a rich world full of many colorful, dangerous people. It's not long before we move beyond the hunt for Rab and dive deep into the murky waters surrounding him, Mackie and Lambert -- and hope that at least someone is able to survive before Sam gets drug under as well.
That metaphor may have gotten away from me. But oh well . . .
This is a violent book -- make no mistake. It's a visceral blood bath at times -- and its disturbing. But honestly? The hard scene to get through had no blood, no guns, knives or anything. It was a chapter where a father thinks about the trouble his daughter is in and what he can do to help her -- it's a couple of pages long, helps build the tension, it deepens the mystery, and just breaks your heart. Give me a dozen bloody corpses any day over that.
If there's one thing I've learned from Kate McCall and Sam Ireland, it's that daughters should not take over their father's PI business unless they're ready to learn a lot about their father that they didn't want to know. It's possible that's true for daughters taking over any business of their father's -- I'm not sure, I should probably read more about them, but I don't recall a lot of novels being written about daughter's taking over for their father's CPA firm or pizza parlor or dry cleaning business. There's a pretty big difference between these two ladies (there are plenty of similarities, now that I think about it, too). Kate is surrounded by oddballs, eccentrics, and actors up for anything who are generally good-natured and willing to help her. Sam is surrounded by people she can't trust, people she shouldn't trust, a brother who has to be harassed into helping her out, a maverick cop, and a whole lot of shady characters -- all of whom (except the brother and probably the cop) would be just as likely to drop her in a grave as they would be to lend her a helping hand.*
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am definitely coming back for more from Stringer. It's twisty, it's violent, it's got a lot of heart, it'll put a smile on your face and get you to come back for more. Check out this unique look into Glasgow.
* This isn't to knock McCall & Co. -- I actually rather enjoyed the book, and plan on reading the rest of the series soon. It was just a parallel I thought of when reading this.