Written by Tony Black — ‘Irvine Welsh’s favourite British crime writer.’ That is one hell of plaudit to live up to, but Tony Black has proven time and again that he is fully deserving of it. He’s a writer with an unflinching eye for brutality, adept at spinning out stories of lowlife transgression which often reaches into the higher echelons. People trafficking, dog fighting, police corruption are a few of the things he touches on, and that’s just the Gus Dury series. Hot on the heels of his second police procedural Murder Mile, Black has released The Storm Without, a standalone novella.
Doug Michie rocks up in his old hometown of Alloyway, the birthplace of Robert Burns on the Ayrshire cost, trailing a black cloud. He’s been drummed out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for reasons he’d rather not go into, his marriage is over and his drink problem is in a steady holding pattern. On top of all that his aging mother needs attention that neither of them particularly want him to give. On the edge of town he runs into old school friend Lyn and his homecoming gets complicated.
Lyn’s son Glenn has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. They had a history of domestic altercations and his reputation was hardly spotless, so it’s an open and shut case. Lyn believes he’s innocent, naturally, and Doug is drawn into doing some digging around. He may be out of the police, but the police isn’t out of him.
It doesn’t take long for Doug to realise Glenn’s being fitted up. The old town has changed a lot since Doug left – faded and degenerating, awash with counterfeit cigarettes and East European girls trafficked in to service the locals behind closed doors. The low level wannabes of his youth are now running things, doing the heavy lifting for the kind of white collar criminals who like to keep their hands clean and will do so no matter what the cost. Doug is warned off politely, then not so politely, but he keeps going, seemingly in self-destruct mode. He receives one beating after another and tries to drink away the pain, prepared to take whatever’s coming to him in order to uncover the truth.
Originally written as a serial for The Ayrshire Post, it would be easy to dismiss The Storm Without as a curio for Black’s hardcore fans only, but it is an excellent piece of work. The short page count and the pressure of weekly deadlines have combined to inspire a lean, pacy novella which packs one hell of a punch. Everything you’d want from a Tony Black book is here – the violence and the corruption and the relentless pessimism which makes you want to hit the bottle, all filtered through an achingly emotional homecoming story.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars