Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over six years. She is a crime fiction Editor for an independent publishing company in London.
I’d had Father Confessor on my ‘to read’ pile for a while but, as is usual pre-Frankfurt Book Fair 2012, my time for reading non-work-related books was limited, so I hadn’t had chance to really get into it. Thanks though to an epic journey involving boats, buses and trains, as well as a distinct lack of plugs on any of these transport systems for me to re-charge my Kindle, I finally got my chance last week.
J McNee, McLean’s hero, is a private investigator in the Philip Marlowe mould. Tough-talking, relatively heavy drinking and ostensibly on the ‘right’ side of the angels, McNee faces a difficult case in his second outing. DCI Ernie Bright has been found murdered and surrounded by evidence that suggests that he had been a ‘dirty’ cop. Not only is McNee’s girlfriend, Susan, Ernie’s daughter, but Ernie himself was once McNee’s mentor and friend when he was an up and coming recruit in the Dundee police force. Relations between the two men however had soured since McNee found out that Ernie was friends with local crime boss David Burns. Burns is an old-school gangster: a gent with a particularly nasty violent streak, but one whose outward façade is that of a respectable businessman. Burns is able to employ people to do his dirty work for him and it’s well-known that he has informers inside the police force. For some reason he’s taken a shine to McNee and wants him to work for him, starting with finding out who killed DCI Ernie Bright and why. It’s a job though that McNee will do for free, not only for his own sake but also for Susan’s.
Father Confessor is straight hardboiled tartan noir. In J McNee, McLean has created a sympathetic yet flawed character who tries to do the right thing and sometimes hits the mark but, more often than not, doesn’t (as he comments himself, ‘so many people I knew seemed to wind up dead’). Loyalties count in his world; loyalty to friends and more particularly to family. If you’re after a dark slice of Dundee noir then you can’t go far wrong with this – especially if you’ve a couple of hours on a train to kill.