After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray

Constable, 2007, 414 p

 After a Dead Dog cover

The author used to be an editor for Orbit and was in fact the person who bought my novel “A Son of the Rock” for publishing under that imprint. Unfortunately (for me) he left that post soon after and his replacement didn’t seem to take to my stuff. Ah well. Murray has since taken to writing himself and this was his first novel. By the evidence shown here his experiences of editing have not gone to waste.

There are, though, echoes/reminders throughout of the writing of Iain Banks, what with the setting in rural Scotland (here the Kintyre peninsula,) an ex-lover for whom the narrator still holds a torch (and who hasn’t quite got over him,) a family secret, a ‘big house’, a political connection and a crime – several crimes – to be unravelled. As in The Crow Road, which the text explicitly mentions, we start – Prologue excepted – with a funeral. The dialogue at times approaches the irreverence of the banter we meet in Banks but doesn’t quite have his zing and sparkle. The first person narrator, a more or less washed up poet turned TV scriptwriter, is even named Iain (Lewis,) though is for some reason often addressed by other characters as ‘Lewis, Iain.’

The funeral was that of Margaret Crawford, mother of Lewis’s first girl friend Carole (now Ferguson) whose relationship with him broke up shortly after the death of her father (attributed to suicide) more than a few years before. The Crawfords run a fish processing business in the town. At the funeral purvey Carole’s husband Duncan introduces Iain to a business associate from Dublin, Colm Kelly, and plies Iain with spiked drinks so that he will be arrested by the local bobbie for drink driving on his way home. Iain manages to avoid drinking them all, puzzling the copper, an old adversary from school, with his negative test. The plot then engages when Iain arrives home and finds a strange suitcase in his study. It contains money and packages with white powder in them. Wondering how, exactly, he would explain this circumstance to the police, he hides the suitcase. Shortly thereafter he finds Danny McGovern (who had earlier noticed a boat on the sea-loch making odd manoeuvres) dead in a caravan dragged from its usual position. Iain enlists the aid of his pal, crime reporter Dougie Henderson, to help him resolve his problem.

Iain’s narration is replete with allusion and more than the odd quotation – which will please the more highbrow reader – and we have enough degrees of skulduggery involving Kelly and New Labour politician and Scottish Executive Minister, Alan Baird to satisfy crime aficionados. Of Edinburgh Iain says it, “has a railway line where it ought to have a river, it’s not very nice to motorists and it’s always cold,” while its good people are positively icy. “If ever a city deserved a dyspeptic Duke it was Edinburgh.”

Murray spins a very good tale. Perhaps as a character Duncan is a bit underdrawn but Iain himself, Carole and Dougie are rounded personalities. The baddies are as baddies are, but then arguably that is as it should be. After a Dead Dog – an odd title but a quote from the Old Testament – is very readable stuff.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘Trick or treat?’” (while Murray correctly refers to the children coming round the doors at Hallowe’en as guisers, it is not usually the case – or wasn’t in my day – to ask this question. It was, however, expected that any child desiring largesse in the form of sweets or money from their hosts performed a party piece first as part of the implicit bargain involved,) Yeats’ (Yeats’s,) wifeys (usually spelled ‘wifies’.) “They were hewed from the same rock” (they were hewn,) “the Great Western Road, the Byres Road” (these well-known Glasgow thoroughfares don’t attract the definite article in local speech; they’re called Great Western Road and Byres Road,) “stamping ground” (isn’t the phrase ‘stomping ground’?) Stephane Grapelly (Grapelli,) “I felt like fool” (a fool,) Evans’ (Evans’s,) soccer (football!) “‘aren’t I?’” (said by Dougie Henderson. He’s Scottish, he would more likely say, ‘amn’t I?’)

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