Written by Paul Vincent Lee — Kate Turner is married to Glaswegian ex-bad boy Joe, who went straight years ago and runs a collection of ex-pat bars in Spain. Secretly, she has a new boyfriend, and they are staying at a hotel in Glasgow while Kate is ostensibly on a trip home to see her mum. The mystery boyfriend gives her a gold necklace engraved with the word ‘Tunstall’. She goes to meet old friend Pete for a coffee, and tells him she has a new lover. Pete has loved Kate since they were teenagers, and from here things go violently and disastrously wrong for everyone concerned.
One brutal murder is followed by another, and yet another, as Detective Inspector Susan Dornan’s team struggle to make sense of the chaos. Is there a serial murderer at large, or is the embittered and freshly demoted Detective Sergeant Matt Healey right when he says that it’s always someone in the family? Joe Turner flies into Glasgow to identify his wife’s body, but inevitably becomes caught up in the investigation. Turner confesses to childhood friend Ray Ford, now a successful Glasgow lawyer, that he was actually in Edinburgh at the time of his wife’s death.
The main characters, particularly the police officers, are well drawn. There is a sympathetic but unflinching portrayal of a once esteemed professor of medicine who has descended into a sad world of substance-induced delusion and vagrancy. And there’s a faint but fascinating thread of religious zealotry running through the fabric of the main story. Paul Vincent Lee avoids the rain-swept, grimy streets and rough pubs which are the customary scenery in Glasgow crime novels and instead uses the bright and chic world of ‘new’ Glasgow as the backdrop to the plot. Rather than the more usual account of a police investigation remorselessly closing in on the killer, here we have a no-holds-barred narrative of police teamwork unraveling in a spectacular fashion, with few of the team escaping unscathed by the end. As one of the characters says, “In a murder case, the dead are not the only victims.”
The author cleverly works up several very convincing suspects as events unfold, but there is a massive twist in the tail of this book. There are at least three major smokescreens blown across the plot that the reader has to peer through. The most contrived is that Joe Turner consistently remains out of police custody and not under serious surveillance, despite being a very obvious suspect. That fact, and his propensity to black out for hours at a time after drinking too much are rather conveniently confusing.
That said, the book is fast-paced and there is a real crackle of energy, particularly in the dialogue. Without providing any new insight in the true nature of madness, there are some passages in Defending Joe which make uncomfortable reading. The main flaw for me was the surfeit of typos, punctuation mistakes and awkward phrases that had gone un-edited. This is perhaps one of the drawbacks of self publication, and got in the way of my enjoyment of the novel.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars