Tuesday 8 September 2015

Madness, murder, mayhem - Glasgow style

First up, the all-important news that I'll be appearing at the Bellshill Cultural Centre, just outside Glasgow, on Tuesday October 13 this year, to chat about my Heck novels and anything else the audience is interested in. It starts at 7pm and it's free. But I've been told that booking is advised. Here's the number: 01698 346770/346771, while the actual online details are HERE. For those interested, the address is John Street, Bellshill, ML4 1RJ.

In keeping with the Glasgow theme, this week's Thrillers, Chillers, Shockers and Killers focusses on Craig Robertson's tough crime caper, WITNESS THE DEAD, which is set in the very heart of that great city. You can find that towards the bottom of this post. But first, on a slightly different note, it gives me great pleasure to announce that a couple more stories first published in my Terror Tales series have come to global attention by being selected for inclusion various in 'Year's Best' anthologies.

Followers of this blog may recall that earlier this year, my two Terror Tales anthologies of 2014, TERROR TALES OF WALES and TERROR TALES OF YORKSHIRE, were duly honoured when four stories appearing there were chosen by editor Johnny Mains for reprint in his excellent BEST BRITISH HORROR series. They were Learning The Language by John Llewellyn Probert and The Rising Tide by Priya Sharma, both from TERROR TALES OF WALES, and Random Flight by Rosalie Parker and On Ilkley Moor by Alison Littlewood, both from TERROR TALES OF YORKSHIRE.

Now, I'm glad to say, the latest batch of Year's Bests have come out, and both WALES and YORKSHIRE have again been granted recognition.

In TERROR TALES OF WALES, Stephen Volk's masterly novella, Matilda of the Night, invokes a real nightmare when an academic studying local folklore is inexorably drawn into the apparently senile ramblings of a hospitalised woman on the verge of death ... I knew from the moment I first received this tale that it had 'Year's Best' written all over it, it's sharply drawn characters interracting on the bleak stage of modern urban life, and yet the whole thing underwritten by the myths and magic of a dark, mysterious world that is not as far from us as we may like to think. It's no surprise, but a great joy nontheless to see it selected by Stephen Jones for BEST NEW HORROR 26.

Meanwhile, in TERROR TALES OF YORKSHIRE, Keris McDondald's disturbing fable, The Coat Off His Back, sees a museum employee charged with cleaning and preserving the artefact of a lifetime, an 18th century 'Innocent coat' - a form of magical protection - apparently dating back to the days of the highwaymen. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially where ancient and malevolent powers are concerned ... This was another tale that I knew was destined to go far when I first received it, beautifully written and intensely frightening, and yet very redolent of the grand old city of York, in which it all takes place. I'm delighted that American editor, Ellen Datlow, chose it for inclusion in BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR 7.

It's great news for both Stephen Volk and Keris McDonald (aka Janine Ashbless), and another big thumbs-up for the Terror Tales, series, which has done very well so far in terms of Year's Best selections. For the record, the totals thus far stand as follows; LONDON leads the field with four, YORKSHIRE and WALES are in joint-second place with three each, while SEASIDE, EAST ANGLIACOTSWOLDS and LAKE DISTRICT make up the chasing pack with one apiece.



A new and ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller and horror novels) – both old and new – that I've recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything about these pieces of work in advance of reading them, then this part of the blog may not be for you. You have been warned.

WITNESS THE DEAD by Craig Robertson (2013)

A brand new sex killer is terrorising Glasgow, dumping and displaying his ‘party girl’ victims in ritualistic fashion in the city’s various Gothic cemeteries. 

A seasoned but dysfunctional murder investigation team swings into action, aided and abetted by young crime scene photographer, Tony Winter. But this will be no straightforward enquiry. Retired detective Danny Neilson – Tony’s uncle – is convinced he’s seen this maniac’s hand before. Back in the ’70s, he hunted a Glasgow rape-strangler known as Red Silk, who also picked his victims up in bars and nightclubs. The problem is, the Red Silk murders were eventually pinned on another Scottish serial killer Archibald Atto – and Atto is still inside, serving a full-life sentence.

So what’s going on? Did the original Murder Squad get it wrong? Is this a copycat murderer? Or a student of Atto perhaps? One question definitely needs answering – how is it that Atto, all but incommunicado in the isolation block, knows so much about this latest batch of heinous crimes? …

I have all kinds of reasons to recommend his novel. A Glasgow native, Craig Robertson (pictured) brings the wintry city to life in glorious, gritty form, using lots of real locations, and painting a vivid picture of its lively and street-smart population – both as it is now, and as it was in the sectarian early ’70s. He also knows his local history, because this fictional case is clearly influenced by the unsolved Bible John murders of the 1960s, a dark chapter in Glasgow’s history, which continues to haunt many of those who remember it.

The police enquiry itself is excellently handled and worryingly authentic – there are lots of stresses and strains in the team, not to mention inopportune moments of realistic error-making, while the sheer griminess of its members’ daily experience has had a brutalising effect on them. There is little love lost here, and almost no political correctness, especially where hard knut boss DI Derek Addison is concerned, but none of this matters because this is not the nice, safe world so many of us inhabit – it is dark, bleak, dangerous, and at the risk of sounding clich├ęd, the wolves that scour it will only be brought down by wolves of a similar nature.

Robertson is also known for his character work, and it’s never been better exemplified than it is here. Winter himself is a flawed hero, his fascination with the artistry of violent death leaving him open to the wiles of Atto, who, during the course of several tense interviews, starts to recognise a like mind in the young snapper. This makes it all the more difficult for Winter’s on-off girlfiend, DS Rachel Nary, who might once have been the warm heart of this investigation unit had she too not been battered by life. For me though, the star of this show is Danny Neilson, who we see in two parallel narratives, as he was when still a carefree lad-about-town copper back in 1972, and as he is now, old, overweight, grouchy, constantly trying to patch up his many failed relationships, and at the same time obsessed with the case he never managed to solve.

So yeah … this is a bit of an ensemble job, with several lead characters, all of whom go on dark if fascinating journeys. And all the time of course, in the background, the clock ticks down to yet another vile murder.

I’ll say no more except that it’s a tour-de-force. If you like your urban crime fiction grimy, and you enjoy looking a little more deeply into the lives and loves and hates and fears of those caught up in it, then this one is definitely for you.

As usual, just for the fun of it, here are my picks for who should play the leads if Witness The Dead were ever to make it to the screen:

Tony Winter – James McAvoy
DS Rachel Nary – Karen Gillan
Danny Neilson – Brian Cox
Archibald Atto, Red Silk – Ciaran Hinds
DI Derek Addison – Dougray Scott

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