Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley is the author’s first novel and it won the McIlvanney Prize: Scottish Crime Book of the Year. The setting is Glasgow, mainly the east end.  I must say that I did like this one but in parts it’s not for the faint-hearted, or weak stomached, it’s definitely on the violent and gory side, but there is comedy too.

Detective Inspector Alison McCoist (yes, Ally McCoist) bungled her last investigation so she’s been demoted, if that wasn’t bad enough her husband has got custody of their teenage twins, things couldn’t get much worse for her but she’s determined to claw her wake back up again, it’s either that or she’ll be retired out of the force.

Sean owns a car wash business, he doesn’t do any of the work himself though, he’s in the office, with a serious cannabis habit. Davey is one of his employees, and he makes the huge mistake of ‘borrowing’ a client’s massive 4×4 to get to a family court session on time, he’s in danger of losing visiting rights to his much-loved daughter. Unfortunately Davey gets kidnapped on the way there, and the very expensive car is torched. He has been mistaken for Paulo, Glasgow’s most violent psychopathic gang leader.

Ally has had dealings with Paulo and company before, and she’s very suspicious of the car wash business. It’s all very dangerous for her, but if she succeeds in getting a conviction she’ll be back on that career ladder again.

This was a good read which reminded me a bit of Christopher Brookmyre’s books, but with less of the crazy humour, although it is funny in parts. I would definitely read more by McSorley in the future. I must admit though that there is quite a lot of Glasgow dialect which was no problem for me and I think should be easy for non Glaswegians to understand, but some people just can’t cope with dialogue like that.

 

 

The House on the Hill by Eileen Dunlop

The House on the Hill by Eileen Dunlop was published in 1987 and the setting is Glasgow.

Philip is an only child and his father has died recently, his mother is having to leave their home to take up a nursing course so that she can support them both in the future. Although Philip’s parents hadn’t had anything to do with old Aunt Jane who lives nearby his mother has decided that she will have to swallow her pride and ask old Aunt Jane to look after Philip for the duration. Aunt Jane hadn’t even bothered to go to Philip’s father’s funeral and that really rankles, but Aunt Jane agrees to look after Philip, she already has another young relative staying with her. Susan is close to Philip in age, but her father is in Kenya, he’s well-off but uncaring, she goes to a posh private school in Glasgow.

The Mount in Wisteria Avenue is a large mansion, but is very much down at heel as Jane doesn’t have the money or energy to refurbish it, or tackle the rampant garden. It’s a big change for Philip and Susan and although they dislike each other to begin with they warm to each other and start to investigate the old house and its strange quirks. It’s all a bit spooky. At times the past is all too present.

Aunt Jane has had a sad life at the hands of her over-bearing father and until Susan and Philip arrived she was stuck in his ways, but a more rosy future beckons for her.

This was another enjoyable read from this Scottish author who apparently taught at Dollar Academy, near Stirling.

 

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart was published in 2022. Previously I have read Shuggie Bain by the same author, he won the Booker Prize in 2020 for that one.

To begin with I had my doubts about reading this one because I wasn’t totally enamoured with the premise which is the awakening of gay sexuality between the main character Mungo and his friend James. But there’s an awful lot more to the book than that. I really liked it, my only quibble is that it is very similar to Shuggie Bain in that it features a family of two young boys and a sister, with a totally out of control alcoholic mother. Jodie the sister is the smart one, she wants to make something of herself, and thinks that Mungo could too, if he gets away from the family.

The setting is mainly Dennistoun in Glasgow’s east end (where I was born – it has changed a lot since then!)

Mungo is the youngest in the family, but they’re all very close in age. Hamish is a bit of a wee hardman, he’s a small time drug dealer and general bad lad, incredibly violent and a proud and bigotted Protestant. He wants Mungo to be just like him, part of a family firm. Mungo really isn’t interested in the violence and mayhem that surrounds Hamish, but Hamish makes him take part in an attack on the Fenians, the Roman Catholic lads in a nearby neighbourhood.

Mungo is much happier spending time with James at his racing pigeon doocot/dovecot, but James is a Catholic. Hamish isn’t going to let that relationship flourish.

Meanwhile Mo-Maw as they call their mother is steeped in self pity and like all addicts the only really important thing to her is alcohol, so she’s often absent from home for weeks at a time. From time to time she goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and it’s there that she meets two men who she happily hands Mungo over to so they can all go on a fishing holiday to the Highlands, with the idea that they will help Mungo to ‘man up’.  Mungo just wants to be with James.

I ended up enjoying this one a lot more than I thought I would, but I hope that the next book by the author has moved away from a three child family with an alcoholic mother.

 

The Tontine Belle by Elisabeth Kyle

The Tontine Bell by the Scottish author Elisabeth Kyle was first published in 1951.

Jinny Errclestoun has been brought up in England in rather poverty stricken circumstances, but she has always been told of her family’s glory days in 18th century Glasgow when the tobacco business had made some families fabulously wealthy – including the Errclestouns. The American War had changed their circumstances completely though as The Tontine Belle had been fired on by rebels in Baltimore and had sunk. That led to the ruin of the Errclestouns.

When Jinny’s father dies she travels to Glasgow to see the only asset left to her, a damp ruin of a house which had been very grand in the 18th century but was now being used as bedsits for people who couldn’t afford somwhere decent to live. Jinny ends up living there herself with the one other thing that had been left to her by her father, a wooden model of The Tontine Belle.

There’s a bit of a mystery in this tale, but it didn’t go at all the way that I expected it to. However given what went on in Glasgow development-wise in the 1950s and 60s the plot is very much of its time and I enjoyed the way the character of Jinny developed. I’ve only read a few previous books by Elisabeth Kyle, but they had Edinburgh as their setting so it was enjoyable to be in the Glasgow of the 1950s.

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh is a sequel to The Cutting Room which was published way back in 2002 – that’s a long time to wait for a continuation, but it was worth it. Neither of the books are the sort of thing that you would give to your maiden great-aunt to read though, this one features quite a lot about drugs and the gay/LGBT etc. communities. The setting is Glasgow which has a certain reputation for toughness or roughness, but I can assure you it is at heart a great place full of lovely people. Can you tell it’s my home city?!

Anyway, we’re catching up with Rilke again, he’s still the head auctioneer at Bowery Auctions and the business is struggling, they could really be doing with some luck – and it comes in the shape of a tip-off from Rilke’s old friend Jojo. The two bump into each other at the wedding of their gay friends – the two Bobbys – and Jojo gives Rilke the address of a large remote home, Bannatyne House, which the owners want cleared. This could be a godsend for the Bowery business.

It seems that Bannatyne House belongs to an elderly lady who will be moving to a care home, but it is her son and nephew who are dealing with it all. Although the house is full of wonderful antiques Rilke is a bit uncomfortable and suspicious as the lady owner is nowhere to be seen.

I really liked this book which involves murder, modern slavery, gangsters, the drug scene and even a gay orgy. Not my normal reading fare at all, but I like that Welsh’s characters are so well-drawn and human, with good and bad sides to them, often quite well hidden. I also appreciate the author’s descriptive qualities, especially of Rose the owner of the auction house. I do like to know what people look like and what they’re wearing and quite often those sorts of details are missing – or thin on the ground.

I wonder if it will be another 20 years before the next book in this series appears, I do hope not as I might not be around to see it. We’re getting on you know!

The Second Cut was published by Canongate on the 27th of January and I was sent a digital copy for review via NetGalley. Thank you.

The Gourlay Girls by Margaret Thomson Davis

The Gourlay Girls by the Scottish author Margaret Thomson Davis is the second book in her Clydesiders trilogy which was first published in 2000. The setting is Glasgow and it begins with young Wincey witnessing her grandfather’s death. She’s so shocked by it that she runs out of the house and wanders into a neighbourhood that she doesn’t know. She’s soaking wet and bewildered by the time young Florence Gourlay finds her in the street and takes pity on her and so takes Wincey to her own home where she knows her mother will feed her and sort things out.

The Gourlays live a hand to mouth existence in a two room tenement with three generations, the old Gaanny is a ‘greetin faced’ curmudgeon if ever there was one. Her son the father of the family is out of work like most of the men in the area. It’s the 1930s and work is scarce, so the Gourlay females, the mother and three daughters of the family have been taking in sewing to keep starvation at bay, but one more mouth to feed in the shape of Wincey doesn’t seem to be a problem for the motherly Teresa Gourlay.

Wincey’s own family is wealthy and from Glasgow’s west end, so the poverty stricken east end of Glasgow is a revelation to her, but it isn’t long before Wincey feels well-loved and cherished in her new family. That’s something that she never felt within her own family. A sense of shame and guilt over not helping her grandfather when he was dying leads Wincey to opt to stay with the Gourlays instead of making her way back home, the longer she stays missing the harder it is to go back home.

Margaret Thomson Davis could be described as the Scottish version of Catherine Cookson I think. She tells a good story, but isn’t the best writer. Although I enjoyed this book it annoyed me that the author hadn’t managed to write separate voices for all the females, with Teresa the mother’s voice being particularly anonymous, which is surprising as she was supposed to come from the Highlands originally, there was no sense of a Highland accent or dialect.

Otherwise I enjoyed it. The tale begins in 1932 and goes on to the outbreak of World War 2 and with the help of Wincey the Gourlays’ little business has expanded hugely, but that brings problems too.

I’ll definitely continue with this trilogy, the third book is Clydesiders at War.

Close Quarters by Angus McAllister

Close Quarters by Angus McAllister was published in 2017 and I decided to read it because Jack was literally shaking the bed with laughter as he read it. I have to say that although it is funny in parts, I didn’t laugh out loud.

The setting is Glasgow’s West End, which if you don’t know it is a rather cosmopolitan and up market area with expensive housing, due mainly to the proximity of The University of Glasgow and the attractions of the Botanic Gardens, a posh hotel and restaurants, eclectic shops, the BBC (once of Queen Margaret Drive but now housed elsewhere in the city) but also ‘normal’ pubs and shops.

A ‘close’ in Scotland is the communal entrance area and stairwell of a tenement building in Scotland. Most of the book features the inhabitants of 13 Oldberry Street, a tenement building which contains seven flats, and a small shop on one side of the ground floor. One of the longest inhabitants of the building is Walter Bain and close to the beginning we’re told that Bain is dead – murdered. It seems that the deed must have been committed by someone who lives in the building as the close security door hasn’t been damaged.

The rest of the book features how Walter Bain’s horrible personality impinged on the lives of his long-suffering neighbours. Bain behaved as if he owned the entire building and spent his time firing off badly spelled and ungrammatical notes to them whenever he thought they had committed a heinous offence – such as not shutting the gate, missing their turn at cleaning the stairs, or having their television on! Bizzarely his mantra is ‘this is a family building’ despite the fact that there are no children in any of the flats. His tyranny has ruled the building for years before someone snaps and does him in.

Suffice to say that everyone has a good reason to murder Bain, in fact – in other parts of Glasgow he would have been bumped off a lot sooner – but then there wouldn’t have been a book, there would just have been a few columns in the Scottish newspapers and a few minutes on the Scottish TV news!

There is humour in it, it wouldn’t have been Glasgow if there was no banter and I really enjoyed strolling around Byres Road and the West End, our old stamping ground, it just didn’t have me shaking with laughter and I guessed the culprit very early on, as did Jack to be fair. His review is here. I’ll definitely try some of McAllister’s other books in the future.

How late it was, how late by James Kelman

How late it was how late cover

How late it was, how late by the Scottish author James Kelman was first published in 1994 and it won the Booker Prize that year. I must admit that I find that amazing as this book is mainly a stream of conciousness and it’s written in a broad west of Scotland dialect – no problem at all for me of course, but even so I almost gave up on this one fairly early on.

If you are bothered by ‘sweary’ words then this one definitely isn’t for you as most of the pages in this book contain the ‘f’ word and even that nuclear bomb of a ‘c’ word. Sometimes there are three ‘f’ words in the one sentence, but I have to say that that is very true to a certain type of character and fits the bill exactly for Sammy.

Sammy is having a terrible time, he had gone out to the pub for a few drinks but had ended up drinking so much that he had lost track of time and there were big blackouts in his memory. He has lost his wallet and his new leather shoes and is wearing someone else’s smelly old trainers – too small for him.

The drink has turned him into a violent nutcase and when he attacks policemen he inevitably ends up being brutally beaten by them , so badly that he loses his sight – not that they believe him about that. A lot of the book is how Sammy copes with this devastating situation. He doesn’t look for any sympathy which is just as well as he doesn’t get any. What worries him more than anything is the fact that his partner Helen is missing. He vaguely remembers that he had a row with her but can’t remember anything else.

It was only the fact that this one won the Booker Prize that encouraged me to keep reading this one and I’m sort of glad that I did because Sammy is a great character who takes all his difficulties with stoicism, but I really didn’t like the ending as it just stops and the reader is left still wondering what happened to Helen, will Sammy’s sight loss be temporary – what happens next? We’ll never know.

I vaguely remember when this book won the prize against all the odds. It stills seems strange that the judges chose a book written in broad Glaswegian.

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

The Cutting Room cover

The Cutting Room is the first book that I’ve read by the Scottish author Louise Welsh, it was published in 2002 and was nominated for several awards, including the Orange Prize.

I mention that she’s a Scottish author, but it seems she was born in England, she must have moved to Scotland at a fairly young age I think because this book which is set in Glasgow is pure dead Glaswegian as far as the dialogue goes anyway. But it would be easily understood by anyone I think. It’s quite detailed on the dodgy background of auction houses, but I’m sure that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The blurb on the front says: ‘A stunning work of fiction’ Sunday Times – well I enjoyed it anyway although I think for more prudish readers some passages might be a much to take.

The story revolves around a Glasgow auction house where Rilke is an auctioneer, the business isn’t going very well so when they get a call to clear an entire housefull of antiques – if they can do it all within a week, they jump at the chance. The house owner has died and as he has no children it has fallen to his elderly sister to arrange everything.

She tells Rilke that her brother’s private office is in the attic, not easily accessible, and she wants Rilke to destroy whatever he finds in there. He finds some very disturbing books and photographs there and is loath to destroy them as he knows they are worth a lot of money, but it’s the photographs that haunt him and he starts inquiries of his own.

Of course as I knew all the locations the book had that extra dimension for me, being able to picture all the places mentioned and Welsh managed to make Rilke a likeable character despite his many weaknesses, including his penchant for having gay sex with random pick ups from time to time. It’s decidedly sleazy in a few places. It takes all sorts I suppose!

I’ll definitely be reading more books by Louise Welsh.

The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis

The Kellys of Kelvingrove was first published in 2010 and this is only the second book by Margaret Thomson Davis which I’ve read. I enjoyed the first one, The Clydesiders but this one really annoyed me, it’s set in Glasgow in the early 1970s which was a time when I was spending a lot of time in the city so everywhere mentioned was well known to me. Unfortunately it obviously wasn’t so well known to Thomson Davis, or whoever wrote the book, I’m beginning to think that maybe it was franchised out to be ghost written, as sometimes happens when a previously successful author has stopped coming up with the goods for their publisher. This seems to be the last book which was written by the author, so maybe she was just getting a bit too old and forgetful when she wrote it – if she did.

Jack Kelly is a Glasgow policeman, married to Mae and they live in a rented room and kitchen, having a very frugal lifestyle. Jack dreads getting into debt. That was the first thing which annoyed me because it made out that policemen weren’t well paid, when of course they were, even before taking into account overtime.

After he was involved in the Ibrox Stadium disaster Jack didn’t feel the same way about his neighbourhood and decided to rent a much larger house in the much posher area of Kelvinside, close to Kelvingrove Art Gallery. That’s when Mae starts getting into financial difficulties, unknown to Jack.

That’s as much as I’m going to say about the storyline which is thin and not credible to me but there were lots of details which were wrong and drove me mad. Such as the mention of Buckfast as the alcohol of choice for youngsters and winos. In the 1970s it was only Lanliq and Eldorado which were drunk by ‘alkies’. Buckfast hadn’t reared its ugly head.

There’s actually a mention and description of The Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street which wasn’t even built until the late 1980s and the description of Buchanan Street itself is of as it is today – pedestrianised and a popular destination for buskers, which it definitely was not in the 1970s.

There were various other anomalies and a very tedious ‘history’ of Gretna Green. It might be fine if you aren’t a Scot and don’t know Glasgow well but it just wasn’t for me.

Do you ever come across mistakes in books like that, and if so, does it put you right off?