Glasgow, 1946: The last time Douglas Brodie came home it was 1942 and he was a dashing young warrior in a kilt. Now, the war is over but victory’s wine has soured and Brodie’s back in Scotland to try and save childhood friend Hugh Donovan from the gallows.
Everyone thought Donovan was dead, shot down in the war. Perhaps it would have been kinder if he had been killed. The man who returned was unrecognizable; mutilated, horribly burned. Donovan keeps his own company, only venturing out for heroin to deaden the pain of his wounds. When a local boy is found raped and murdered, there is only one suspect…
Donovan claims he’s innocent, but a mountain of evidence says otherwise. Despite the hideousness of the crime, ex-policeman Brodie feels compelled to help his one-time friend.
This book had the two elements that are important to me -- beautiful writing and well-drawn believable characters. I was caught up in the story from page one. Gordon Ferris knows how to hold the reader's interest.
Setting the story in the UK in the years after World War II was another plus. It is not a pretty picture of those days. The story starts in London where Brodie had been trying to get a job as a newspaperman.
I was hunched over the table nursing a second mug of tea while reading yesterday’s Times and my own paper the London Bugle. Know your enemy, my old drill sergeant used to say. Besides, I enjoy the adverts on the front of the Times. In their way they give as clear a picture of Britain as the inside news pages. Stories of a hard-up country where gentlemen were selling their fine leather gloves, or where an ex-officer, RAF, DFC would make excellent private secretary. Where trained mechanics were searching for work as drivers, and war heroes were on the lookout for gardening jobs or other manual exercise. The fruits of victory were bitter enough for some.
I supped my tea and counted my blessings. In the last month I’d started to get a steady trickle of freelance assignments from the Bugle and there was a chance of a full-time job. I was making enough money to afford food, fags and Scotch, not necessarily in that order. But at least I would no longer simply be drinking away the last of my demob money.The story soon moves to Scotland where Douglas Brodie works with a young female advocate to look for a way to appeal Hugh Donovan's sentence. So this is in part a legal mystery, not set in the courtroom but revealing details of the Scottish legal system. The criminals are very bad people and the crimes are horrendous.
The negatives were few. The story was a bit too long, too complex. Val McDermid says it is written "in the great Scottish tradition of mystery and adventure", and it may have been that there was too much adventure for me. Even though the subject matter was challenging and the book turns more thrillerish towards the end, I found this to be a great story and I will be reading more of this series. I have Bitter Water and Pilgrim Soul on the Kindle. I hope I can fit in at least one of those by the end of 2015.
Other resources and reviews:
- Margot's Spotlight at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist provides more detail about the story and the depiction of the post-War years.
- More reviews at Reactions to Reading, Mysteries in Paradise, and Eurocrime.
Publisher: Corvus, 2011 (orig. pub. 2010)
Length: 382 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Series: Douglas Brodie #1
Setting: UK, Scotland
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: I purchased my copy.