Calum MacLeod is a reporter for the Inverness Courier and had been writing for SHOTS since its early days. In 2009 the Highland and Islands Media Awards' judging panel awarded him “Highly Commended Feature Writer of the Year”.
Ah, poor Birmingham, England’s eternally unglamorous second city. Maybe a local lad like Mick Scully could give the place a bit of welcome PR?
Well maybe not. The debut novel from the nightclub bouncer turned Humanist Funeral Minister will never be mistaken for a tourist brochure, its characters steeped a city underworld of crime ranging from the petty to the murderous.
Scully has obviously drawn on the former of those two professions for The Norway Room, also the name of a nightclub various criminal parties are circling round for their own ends.
Drawn into that orbit are the three very different protagonists who are Scully’s viewpoint characters.
When his father is sent to prison 13-year old Ash begins a near feral existence, keeping clear of the authorities and getting by with odd jobs of varying degrees of legality, his only role models guys like his dad’s pal Kieran. The sort of person who thinks a line of cocaine is a suitable way of cheering up a boy like Ash when his father is sentenced. But a 13-year old boy living unattended in his own house can still be useful, especially when you have loads of hooky gear to store or need an innocent looking courier, and so Ash is drawn deeper into a dangerous adult world of crime and violence.
Ex-copper Carrow has already lost his innocence. Now a bouncer at the Norway Room, he faces losing what little integrity remains. Alone and adrift after the death of his mother and a promising career as a bodyguard was cut short by tragedy, Carrow is a classic noir figure, only a gentle shove away from giving in to temptation and committing himself to a life on the wrong side of the law.
Like Shuko, the final member of Scully’s trio, an enforcer for a Chinese gang with its ancient rituals and codes of honour.
The exotic Shuko fails to convince as much as the grittier and more down to earth Ash and Carrow, especially as what could have been an interesting relationship development never achieves its potential.
In contrast Ash and Carrow’s story arcs each look strong enough to carry a novel of their own, though it is fun seeing where the strands come together before being resolved with a jarring act of unnecessary violence.
If Scully’s past as a bouncer is clearly discernable within the book, perhaps too is that humanism (with a small H), which still clings on to that essential faith in humanity, the hope that we can still achieve some form of redemption. Even if some of the characters remain willing to embrace their own damnation. In a strictly secular sense, of course.
Whatever your feelings about the real town, Scully’s Birmingham is worth a visit, a couple of reservations about that ending and some of the more stock characters aside. Definitely a new writer worth keeping an eye on.