The term Tartan Noir might have been coined for Tony Black. His Gus Dury series, following the gradual downward spiral of an Edinburgh-based private investigator with an Olympic grade drink problem and a tangled love life, was brutal tour de force which breathed new life into a stale sub-genre. Now he’s turned his attention to the police procedural and Murder Mile is the second outing for DI Rob Brennan, a complex and brooding character who makes Rebus looked positively chipper by comparison.
Brennan comes into this book with a full payload of demons, trouble with his wife, trouble with his superiors, not to mention the lingering taint of a murdered brother, so when the body of young woman is found, strangled and mutilated on the outskirts of Edinburgh he can’t shake off her suffering with the usual professional detachment. Lindsay Sloan was a good girl and Brennan knows what the world does to good people, it grinds them down and punishes them, while it rewards the thugs and back stabbers. He wants resolution for her family, even if it means slamming up against the police machine he is fast coming to despise.
Soon he discovers that Lindsay isn’t the first woman to die in such horrific circumstances and the prospect of a serial killer stalking the streets of Edinburgh becomes inescapable, along with the knowledge that his hated oppo DI Gallagher is trying to muscle in on the case, out for glory and backed to the hilt by their DCS. The office politics threaten to swamp the case but Brennan pushes on, juggling his wife’s ire and his daughter’s ambivalence, delving into dark territory within himself as he tries to crack the mind of a vicious killer the press have dubbed the Edinburgh Ripper.
Brennan isn’t the only person on the trail though. Neil Henderson, a freshly streeted pimp with debts owing to one of the city’s toughest loan sharks, has something Brennan doesn’t; Angie. She used to be a good girl too, but heroin and hooking have taken their toll on her and when she tells Henderson she knows who the killer is he scents a way out of his current financial problems. But first he’s got to get Angie to give up a name.
Murder Mile is a police procedural for people who hate police procedurals. Black doesn’t get mired in the minutiae of the day-to-day slog like many writers and Brennan is not your typical copper. He’s fiercely introspective and much of the book is taken up with his musings on the wider ramifications of the case and the general unpleasantness of the world around him, whether its the fate of girls like Angie, who slide down onto the streets, or the cold ambivalence of couples sitting in a cafe without talking to one another. The book is suffused with his bleak worldview, unrelenting and precisely observed, creating a version of Edinburgh which is pure Black.
With Murder Mile Tony Black has put the heart back into the serial killer novel. It’s dark, yes, and deeply unpleasant in places, as it should be, but he hasn’t played it for shocks and there’s a refreshing lack of cheap gore. Rob Brennan is the perfect guide to follow through the criminal underworld, a bundle of rage and righteousness, and after reading Murder Mile the next fictional DI you come across will have a lot to live up to.