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Quintin Jardine

Headline £17.99 hbk

Reviewed by Bob Cartwright

It can be embarrassing. But after years plumbing the expanses and depths offered by crime fiction, there are still a large number of writers, some of whom have been around for years, I still haven’t explored. So thanks to Nicki at Scarthin Bookshop who was incredulous rather than scathing when I admitted ignorance of Quintin Jardine. No sooner had she insisted that I ought to catch up with Edinburgh’s other crime fiction exponent, than Stotts from the Shots obliged with a review copy of Poisoned Cherries, the latest outing for Oz Blackstone.

Quintin Jardine already has a large back catalogue, both with Blackstone and with Skinner, so there are potential problems with starting with the current title. Will the author spend too much space regaling the reader with too much detail from previous? Or will s/he assume you have read everything they have written previously, not provide any detail at all, and then bemuse you by introducing a crucial twist of the plot which is only intelligible if you have read an earlier adventure? Well the one sure thing about Poisoned Cherries is that it has encouraged pillage of the earlier Blackstones, and more enjoyably the Skinners, and it does have a much greater appeal for having travelled back to the roots.

In this latest venture, the one-time Edinburgh cop is on the verge of Hollywood stardom.

He is also back on Edinburgh, this time playing a detective in a film based on a Skinner book by one Quintin Jardine, a remarkably subtle piece of self-promotion. He’s also in the throes of a split from second wife, and with a name like Primavera, that’s not exactly surprising. And maybe there’s a bit of justice on her part because he did indulge in a bit of extra-marital shagging on the very day he married her. Justice catches up with him on his return to Edinburgh and on renewing the acquaintance of Susie, the aforementioned third party, who is about to deliver the nine-months fruit of their earlier liaison.

Now I suppose this is all nothing less than fans of Oz have come to expect, but I did find all this bedroom history rather tiresome. It also did little to encourage much of an identification with Oz, other than as a bit of a prat. But once the author cuts to the chase, both he, and Oz, manage to redeem themselves to a great extent. Chase begins when Oz receives a phone call Alison, another ex-conquest who desperately needs to talk to him. Naturally she wants to do more than talk to him, but by this time Oz is a reformed character having fallen in love with Susie, and become a proud father of a beautiful daughter. So Alison has to be satisfied with the chat, in which she pleads with Oz to help her find her boyfriend, and partner in her successful public relations firm, who has gone missing. Partner is soon found dead at his home, and Alison attracts the attention of the police as the prime suspect for his murder.

It all makes for a busy return to Edinburgh for Oz who has to combine the role of partner and father, with filming, and finding out who killed Alison’s bloke and why, in order to get her off the hook and off his back. Once we reach that stage, Jardine comes into his own as an exceptionally good storyteller and plotter who won’t disappoint either new or old readers. But having now delved into earlier adventures of both Oz and Bob, I have to express a strong preference for Bob Skinner. However, both still disappoint me in that they are frequently decontextualised, distanced from the Edinburgh background which looms so wonderfully and effectively with Rebus and Rankin, but which is given scant regard by Jardine. Shame that!