By Russel D McLean
If my camera was working, I'd have pictures.
But the sad truth you'll just have to accept my word as proof that tonight Scots noir author wunderkind Tony Black launched his third novel, LOSS.
I have already talked about LOSS at the website of the ITW, rightfully praising both book and author for their bleak, beautiful view of Scottish society; a view that is seen from the bottom up by alcoholic hack Gus Drury. Dury is one of the most impressive characters to emerge from the Scottish crime scene in recent years - - a complex and dangerous character whose faults often make up for his virtues, he is, as Black was quick to assure us tonight, nothing like the author. Except perhaps in his views of politicians and the abundance of “tartan tat” that blights the Scottish tourist industry.
Black is one of those writers I offer as proof of the rebirth of Scottish hardboiled. His cynical worldview combined with a searing prose style has swiftly edged him up on my list of must-read writers. And, as ever, it is because Black seems to understand that politics and society are as important to crime fiction as any creative bloodletting. Yes, people may ask (and tonight, some did)what kind of mind can conceive of such attrocities as Black describes, but when you think about it, the true horror of a writer like Black comes in the quieter moments, the moments when Black confronts the mindset of those who would commit attrocities both physical and mental on other people.
Not that he was always a crime geek when it came to his career as an author, of course. Tonight's event offered up evidence of a burgeoning need to write a historical novel about the Tasmanian Tiger (no, we're not kidding) and the revelation that his four previous novels were not remotely connected to the Drury series (although at least two were caper novels). There was also the admission that women's reaction to Drury was “they'd either slap him or shag him” and the admission from the audience that men are more squeamish than women when it comes to the violence in his novels.
For me, one of the more interesting (and sadly unexplored) moments of the night came in Black's naming Irvine Welsh as a crime writing influence. Welsh is more generally accepted as a literary author, and yet I'm right behind Black when he outs Welsh as a crime writer. Having argued with many folks over the use of “mystery” as our preferred nom-de-genre, I would say that Welsh is a crime writer, if not a mystery writer and thus mystery is clearly a subset of crime. But I guess that's an argument for another (arguably more sober) day.
For today, however, it is enough to say that LOSS is a book you need to go and buy right now. Or, failing that, you need to buy the first two Dury novels.
Tony Black is currently one of the best kept secrets of the Scottish crime scene, but if you're missing out, believe me when I tell you that you're missing one of the most emotionlly honest, painfully violent and brutally intelligent of the new Scottish crime pack. Black brings a brutal urgency to his novels and manages to make Dury more than just another alcoholic hack with anger management issues. This is modern crime at its most affecting, its most honest and its most intelligent.