Written by Lesley Kelly — Remember the old saying ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’? Well, what if you have a pretty bad taste in friends too? Many people seem to have this problem, including Joe Staines, or Stainesie as he’s better known in his home town of Leith, Scotland. In truth, his family members aren’t too bad, if you discount his deceased mother who had a penchant for drink. His friends, however, leave a lot to be desired – well, one friend in particular.
Stainsie has been buddies with Lachlan Stoddart since their first day together in primary school, when the double lure of Lachie’s spacehopper and colour TV proved too much of a draw. How was he to know that Lachie was a budding psychopath, and the son of the local crime lord? And that 30 years later Stainsie would still be in his thrall?
Now Lachie is dead, as is his mother, the formidable Isabella ‘Isa’ Stoddart, who took over the family firm when her husband, Guthrie, mysteriously disappeared. The word on the street is that Stainsie was the one who put Isa in her grave. How can he prove his innocence? And why on Earth did she leave everything to him in her will?
The scene is set for a fast, furious and very funny slice of tartan noir that is dark humour personified. There were times when I laughed so loudly that I was glad to be at home reading, rather than on a crowded commuter train.
From the off, Stainsie is a marked man, and through flashback and first person narrative we find out what brought him to this complicated state of affairs. In truth, nothing in Stainsie’s life has ever been simple. I’ve already mentioned his late, lamented mother – add to that a brother who is fond of asking questions, a father who has disowned him, a granny with secrets of her own, a wife who left him and went to Brussels with their children, and a pal in the shape of the opinionated, asthmatic Wheezy, and you’ll begin to wonder how he ever survived this long.
As the story begins, Stainsie is returning to Edinburgh after a self-imposed exile in Newcastle. It transpires that he went there with Isa’s tally book, listing all the local folk who owed her money, and a hefty wedge of cash, courtesy of those very debtors, who wanted the tally book to disappear forever and decided that Stainsie was the man for the job.
His return coincides with the discovery of a body in the property mysteriously bequeathed to him by Mrs Stoddart. The rumour mill again has Stainsie as the culprit and the polis would dearly like to find evidence tying him to the murder. Meanwhile, a mysterious man has been asking for him at the pub and all his old friends want him gone. Can Stainsie get his act together, clear his name and win the trust of the lovely Marianne before anyone else dies? It’s quite an ask for a man whose luck ran out, screaming, years ago…
This is a romp of a novel which is both entertaining and amusing. The violent/funny combination brings to mind Keith Nixon’s Konstanin series and is reminiscent of Alison Taft and Dougie Brimson. It’s certainly the funniest crime novel I’ve read since Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille and a first class debut.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars