A faux-sticker on the cover of my paperback copy of The Hanging Shed (Corvus, 2010, my edition 2011) proclaims this "The No. 1 eBook bestseller." That's not a selling point in my view, in fact it gave me pause when perusing the book at my local bookstore, Porter Square Books. And while I wouldn't say that this was the finest piece of crime fiction I've ever read, it was in fact engaging, well-paced, with likable (and hateable) characters, and just enough twists to keep me guessing.
Our Hero is Douglas Brodie, former cop, WW2 vet, turned slightly scotch-soaked journalist. He's a little damaged by life, but not irreparably so, and seems to hold a slightly more positive view of the world than his countryman John Rebus. Brodie is called home to Glasgow by his former frenemy Hugh Donovan, to try and prove Hugh's innocence in a heinous crime for which he is to hang in four weeks' time. Naturally, Hugh has a smart and tough but overwhelmed female lawyer who is also working on the appeal. You can guess how that goes, but I'll say this, even though the obvious pairing happens, it's not as central or drawn out as it might have been in the hands of a lesser crime-fiction writer. In other words, it doesn't distract from the story. In fact, Samantha becomes part of the story in a somewhat unexpected way. I will point out that once again, however, we are presented with a Hero-ine who is presented plain and dowdy and sever while she is being smart, but miraculously becomes gorgeous and feminine after she sleeps with Our Hero. I wonder if she'll appear in the next Brodie tale?
As usual in these tales from Celtic lands, there are priests involved, and they act in their usual priestly ways.
Author Gordon Ferris is lauded for his realistic description of the gritty underworld of mid-20th c. Glasgow, and who am I to say he gets it at all wrong? It reads well to me, and provides the requisite tension that saves a story set in a well-known city from becoming a travelogue. That's not to say that there is not a certain amount of travelling around, since parts of the story take place on the island of Arran, and even in Northern Ireland. Ferris manages to convince this reader that this would be a very nice place to vacation (minus the bad guys, of course). And, he's got a nice eye for character development by language. Consider this exchange, when Brodie is trying to get information out of a nosy neighbor:
"We slipped back to the Reid-Kennedy house and I knocked on the neighbour's door. She opened it fast, as though she'd been waiting behind it, eye pressed to the net curtain over the glass panel.
'I don't suppose you saw the number [license] plate, missus?'
She shook her curler-clad head. 'Nup.'
'OK, thanks.' I turned to walk back to the car. She waited till I was at the gate.
'But oor Alec did.'
I walked back. Nosy wee boys seemed to pop up just when you needed them. Alec was produced. Standard-issue urchin. Shorts hanging off skinny hips, a vest under a sleeveless jumper and a runny nose. But wee Alec was also clutching a scrap of a notebook.
'He collects nummers,' his mother said. 'Nae trains here, so he collects car nummers.'
'See, in the summer, a' thae folk come ower here for the fair an' I get their nummers,' piped Alec.
'Don't taigle the man, son, just tell him the nummer o' the big car frae yesterday.'
Alec flicked through his little pad of childish scrawl and with his filthy finger tracing across the last page he proudly declaimed, 'An Austin 10. SD 319. That's a Glesga nummer, mister.
'So it is, Alec. So it is,' I replied, only just forbearing to bend down and kiss his nitty head." (194-195)
Like Confederate-soldier speak, it is fun to read out loud and get the accent. I don't know what taigle means, but I look forward to heading back to Glesga to find out.