Written by Douglas Skelton — Former journalist, ex-drug addict, current private eye and perennial trouble-magnet Dominic Queste was first introduced to readers last year in The Dead Don’t Boogie, which earned five stars on this site and won praise far and wide. He proved an entertaining companion and we’ve been looking forward to making Dom’s reacquaintance ever since.
Crime fiction lovers who like their skulduggery with a side dish of humour are well served these days, with Paul D Brazill, Caimh McDonnell and our Keith Nixon as prime proponents. Douglas Skelton certainly deserves his place in the club, and Tag – You’re Dead once again demonstrates a talent for one-liners which will have you laughing out loud.
In Glasgow, Queste is on the lookout for butcher Sam Price, whose steak pies won prizes and who had a neat little sideline as a fence for stolen goods. But Sam has vanished without trace, and Queste’s long-suffering girlfriend Ginty has been cast in the role of worried relative. Sam’s her cousin, and his disappearance is completely out of character but she knows just the man to find him….
Dom finds it hard to say no to Ginty and that’s about to get him into all sorts of bother, because not only has Sam gone missing, but so has a precious jade bangle worth £750,000, which came into his hands after a burglary at the home of a High Court judge. All of which means our butcher is a marked man, and top of the list of those wanting a wee word with him is the well named Tank Milligan, large of stature and short of patience, whose motto is strike first, ask questions later.
So far, so noirish, but Skelton didn’t get shortlisted for the McIlvanney Scottish Crime Book of the Year in 2016 by sticking to conventions, so up steps a second devious twist. There’s a killer on the loose who seems to share some of Sam’s butchery skills, coupled with a strangely macabre sense of humour. He has Queste in his sights, and as our hero strives to stay one step ahead of the game (and, hopefully, in one piece), he gets the distinct impression that his adversary is well-practised in his art. Has Dom finally bitten off more than he can chew?
Skelton is a master at creating quirky characters without wandering into the realms of cliche and those who read and enjoyed The Dead Don’t Boogie will be delighted to welcome back the Sutherland Brothers (less pop stars, more wannabe celebrity chefs), the calming influences of Father Verne and the continuation of Queste’s battle with DCI Nick Cornwell – who takes every word that Dom says with a pinch of salt (and not without good reason). Newbies need not worry, because Tag – You’re Dead stands perfectly well on its own two feet and you’ll not feel left out.
The pit-patting between stories gets a little wearing at times and is something of a distraction. The strands unravel and coalesce at will, and as I looked back and mused after finishing the book I found myself debating whether the final denouement actually worked. Nevertheless, it’s a most enjoyable read, with comic situations and clever dialogue guaranteed to raise a laugh.
Movie buffs are also in for a treat, as there’s an ongoing game of ‘spot the film reference’ which is played between Dom and his stalker – and the writer and his readers. How many can you find?
We have reviewed a huge range of Scottish crime fiction novels here on Crime Fiction Lover – click here to explore them.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars