Written by Bill Daly — The first in a new series, Black Mail is a debut crime novel from Bill Daly and it’s set in contemporary Glasgow. Billed as twisty and atmospheric, the book introduces us to DCI Charlie Anderson. Long in the tooth and old fashioned in some ways, he knows the city inside out having made a fair few friends and enemies during the course of his career. His planned retirement has been recently postponed following the death of one of his superior officers, drawing him back into a particularly vexing investigation.
Simon Ramsay, a successful and seemingly respectable businessman, receives an email with an incriminating photograph attached, which will be released to the press if he doesn’t come up with £50,000. In a state of panic he contacts his mistress, Laura, telling her about the compromising photograph of the two of them together. She in turn fears the retribution of her violent husband, Mike Harrison, who is not averse to menacing business practices himself. So to deal with the blackmailer Laura enlists the services of psychopath Billy McAteer, fresh out of jail. It’s a moment of madness that leads to some disastrous and entirely unexpected repercussions. It falls to DCI Anderson and his sidekick DS Tony O’Sullivan to deal with the murderous consequences of this ill-fated scheme.
Though it’s a debut, Black Mail can proudly sit alongside books by far more established writers in the Glasgow noir field. Daly effortlessly incorporates the seedy underbelly of the city in his portrayal of bent bookie Mike Harrison. Simon Ramsay is a lily-livered and morally weak man, completely adrift in this underground world, and Daly cleverly puts the impetus of the plot on his lover Laura, who reveals her hidden strengths in trying to deal with the situation she finds herself in. The tension that arises for her is well portrayed, as McAteer turns the screws on her and places her life in danger.
With the pace of the plot, your attention will be held throughout. The violence is swift and uncompromising, and necessary to the plot. McAteer is an exceptionally nasty piece of work and he adds to the overall tension of the book. He’s a sinister, ruthless and physically threatening hardman but the duplicity and violence in his nature are due to events in his past. McAteer is a great villain, yet his actions are only fuelled by the nefarious dirty dealings of the seemingly more respectable characters whose misdemeanours provide his bread and butter.
Equally, the characterisation of DCI Charlie Anderson and his partner DS O’Sullivan are also strengths of the book. The stoicism and dry humour of Anderson, whose aura of having seen it all is ruffled a little as the case progresses, is set against the more gung-ho and slightly naïve attitude of O’Sullivan. The latter displays all the essential qualities of a good detective, under the careful tutelage of Anderson. The interaction between them is a real highlight of the book, and a fondness for both characters is quickly achieved by the author, which bodes well for further outings for them. It was also refreshing to see two police characters that didn’t conform to the well-worn stereotypes of crime fiction focusing on marriage break-ups, alcoholism and so on.
All in all a highly enjoyable debut that fully captures the atmosphere and darker side of Glasgow, and the sordid dealings of some of its inhabitants. With the introduction of two brilliantly realised and likeable police protagonists, and an affectionate insight into their lives outside the job, Daly effectively sows the seed for a successful and long running series that I will be more than happy to return to. A solid police procedural and a writer to watch.
Old Street Publishing
CFL Rating: 5 Stars