BITTER WATER

Written by Gordon Ferris

Review written by Robin Jarossi


BITTER WATER
Atlantic Books
RRP: £12.99
Released: 1st April 2012
Hbk

We met Douglas Brodie in Ferris’s bestseller The Hanging Shed, when he linked up with lawyer Samantha Campbell to save his childhood friend from the gallows in post-war Glasgow. Bitter Water follows closely on that tragic story, with Brodie now settling in as a probationary reporter on the Glasgow Gazette.

 There’s a heatwave in the city, and the body of a councillor is found with his head plunged into a bucket of cement. At the same time, a group of vigilantes calling themselves the Marshals has started to put right the failings, as they see it, of the justice system by dishing out vicious beatings to anyone they think has dodged a prison sentence.

 This all occurs in the bad old days of post-war gloom, when razor gangs roamed the Gorbals and reporters could join uniformed coppers in trampling all over the forensic evidence at crime scenes. Brodie’s proximity to the crimes and the Marshals’ leader gives him a career-making story, but also places him in a dangerous nexus between the vigilantes, the police and menacing corrupt forces among the city’s powerbrokers. While Brodie has a sneaking sympathy for the Marshals, he also knows from personal experience the danger of taking the law into your hands.

 He makes a bruising hero. A former policeman with a distinguished war record (he rose to major and was awarded the Military Cross), he is made authentic by the author in having  a struggle to find himself a new role in civilian life and perhaps some happiness with the elusive Samantha, who is still traumatised by her abduction in the first novel.

 Ferris deftly sketches a range of rounded characters, from Brodie’s wee mother to Wullie McAllister, his soon-to-retire old hack mentor. The author also gives us a fascinating snapshot of war-damaged Glasgow, never ladling on the nostalgia or period kitsch, but succinctly evoking a city soon to sweep away its slums for a post-war utopia of flats and estates.

 What might have been an intriguing theme of civic corruption fades from view, as all-out action sweeps Brodie and Samantha along, with another dodgy councillor, his fancy woman and a trio of homosexuals also meeting grim ends, before a spectacular finale at a loch-side castle. But Ferris’s characters are great company, and the writing has a wonderful tartan tang, giving us some tasty dialect – gowping, drouth, skelp.

 A tense, taut period mystery that convincingly immerses you in an era and a mystery that you’ll be sad to finish. You’d be total bampot to miss it.


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