Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
Tony Black’s second outing for his hero, Gus Dury (first seen in Paying for It) finds the ex-journalist tripping downwards into a nightmare of alcohol and violence amid the wastelands of Edinburgh’s sink estates, where daily life is despoiled by gangs, drugs, intimidation, murder… and illegal dog fights.
This is not an Edinburgh the local Tourist Board will want to feature in their brochures; far more murder mile than Royal Mile, less Princes Street, more dead-end street, it’s rough, tough and dangerous to know.
Stumbling – literally – over a gutted body on Corstorphine Hill, Gus finds himself dragged into the murky depths of the city’s underbelly on the trail of the murderer, corrupt officials and a wodge of stolen money. Along the way he makes a heart-shredding discovery: Debs, his ex-wife, is sleeping with the enemy – in the shape of ambitious, aggressive and thoroughly detestable local police detective, Jonny Johnstone.
Caught between Johnstone, who wants Gus conveniently out of the way and fitted up for murder, and jailed gang boss and psychopath-by-proxy, Rab Hart, it’s no small wonder Gus prefers to anaesthetise himself with a regular flow of the hard stuff. In spite of the well-meaning interventions of his close friends, Hod and Mac, a pair of characters who lift the mood whenever they appear, his thirst is too great, his embittered view of the world too dark, and alcohol acts as the driving force in his life. Worse, he’s been left a pub by a dead friend, which must surely be nature’s way of thoroughly taking the piss.
But there’s a grain of something deep within Gus which won’t let him give up entirely, especially where Debs is concerned. The very idea, for example, of her becoming entwined with a policeman is enough to enrage him into action. Aided by Hod and Mac, and adopted by a loveable Staffordshire Terrier he rescues from a gang of thugs following a dog fight, he batters his way through the underworld like a manic pinball, ricocheting off villains, cops and police cell walls with equal, ferocious abandon, as relentless in his desire for truth as he is for the next jar.
This is first-class writing, with the authentic feel of scraped knuckles, battered bodies, damaged minds and the darkness of despair that comes with a tortured soul.
It’s an ugly world Gus moves in, full of shadows and relentless danger. Yet Tony Black manages to make Dury a sympathetic character who, even though he (Dury) wouldn’t thank you a jot for caring, inspires you to root for him right through to the end.
Tony Black has been compared with Billingham, Rankin and Kernick, which is praise indeed by anyone’s standards.
Personally, going by this book, I think he’s in a league of his own.