Written by Seumas Gallacher — Jack Calder is an ex-SAS soldier working with former colleagues in ISP, a specialist security firm. He is sent to investigate a diamond heist in Utrecht, but swiftly learns that there is a very strong Far East connection. He then travels to Hong Kong where he meets the glamorous chief of ISP’s local bureau, May-Ling. Together they begin to unravel a complex web of corruption. The twin spiders at the centre of this web are the Chan brothers, leaders of one of Hong Kong’s most ruthless and powerful triads.
The title is an intriguing one, but is explained early on in the novel. Calder grew up in a long lost Glasgow, the Glasgow of shipyards, hard work, hard living and hard fighting. His father treasured a battered recording of a violin concerto which he played constantly, hence his local nickname, The Violin Man. The back references to Calder’s childhood are hauntingly and beautifully written. I would go further, and say I was moved almost to tears by this part of the book. It seems that the author grew up in Glasgow but I am unable to say how autobiographical this section of the story is. Gallacher shows that he can write powerfully and convincingly about childhood but in the context of this particular novel it is a story which can only be told once.
The novel is slightly odd in that it is a period work in a sense. It is set in 1990s Hong Kong, before the return of the colony to the People’s Republic. Period novels should allow a writer to throw all manner of details and curiosities into the narrative but here, apart from the author’s evident experience of living there at the time, there is little in the storytelling to place it two decades ago. There are two exceptions, one more important than the other. Quite rightly, no-one in the story has a mobile phone. It is easy to forget how much more laboured communications were in those days. More importantly, the Hong Kong police in this story are all British ex-pats, very eager to oblige the security forces from Blighty while not particularly sympathetic to the tendencies of the ethnic majority!
Jack Calder’s boss Jules Townsend is, like Jack, ex-SAS, and he treats his employees as family. When they are killed or injured, he sees this as a personal affront, and nothing will prevent him from exacting revenge on those who have compromised his business. The trail of death and mayhem takes us from Europe, to Hong Kong, to South America and back again. The dialogue rarely sparkles, and bristles with clichés, but the action sequences are efficiently and effectively written.
The Violin Man’s Legacy proved to be a satisfying read but I would hesitate to put the book among the first rank of crime/action thrillers. It gets from A to B well enough but having set the scene so superbly, with the harrowing and sensitive description of where Jack Calder came from, the author just lets it lie and gets on with a standard shoot-’em-up story. It is clear that the author has enviable talent, and I hope that the next Jack Calder novel lets us see more of The Violin Man’s true legacy.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars