I feel that I should mention right at the off that Douglas Lindsay is one of my favourite writers. Many fans of crime writing will know him for his Barney Thompson books which feature the (mis) adventures of a rubbish barber who through normally no fault of his own finds himself in various situations where people end up dead and he invariable ends up being accused of murder. The books are funny, preposterous and you should give them a go.
A Plague of Crows is the second in a new series by Lindsay which features DS Thomas Hutton an ex-soldier who works in Glasgow. He likes a drink, Bob Dylan and he really loves the women having been married three times and slept with a fair number of his female colleagues in CID oh and plenty of others too. Indeed A Plague of Crows finds Hutton living the life of a hermit by a loch having been suspended for assaulting a DI in his station who took offence at Hutton for sleeping with his wife and hit him over the head with a wine bottle. Hutton’s boss Taylor (a fellow Dylan fan) tracks him down and gets him reinstated as he needs Hutton’s help in investigating an incident involving killer who has murdered three people in one incident. The victims were killed in a manner which I won’t describe here as I don’t want to spoil it for you but rest assured it is particularly nasty and might just involve the crows of the book’s title.
The reason why I like Lindsay’s book is that they manage to do what a lot of writers try to do but fail and that’s to combine humour with the macabre. Horrible things happen in his books and I mean really horrible things but there’s always a gag around the corner that will make you laugh out loud but importantly these jokes never distract from the seriousness of the events that Lindsay is writing about. Well okay sometimes in the Barney Thompson books they do but so far in the Hutton books Lindsay plays it straight and the jokes flow naturally either from Hutton as the narrator or from the other characters in the book. The book just as a lot of Lindsay’s other work does also works as a satire of life in 21st century Britain and in particular the consumer led society that despite the talk of double dip recession we still live in and there are also frequent references and insights from Lindsey in to Scottish society in these pre-referendum days.
Lindsay also describes the Scottish Police in these new days of a single force up there and shows how this affects an investigation, the old rivalries still exist between Scotland’s main cities, clues are missed or deliberately ignored and this casual arrogance of the authorities leads to the genuinely uncomfortable climax of the book. It’s one which asks the reader to question just how much damage a person can take before they either change their ways or self destruct and how much we have become a nation of voyeurs, happy to watch misery, death and mayhem via whatever means we have available to us. A Plague of Crows doesn’t answer these questions for you but there is another Hutton book on the way so maybe there will be some clues.
A Plague of Crows is another excellent Douglas Lindsey read, if I was going to recommend any of his books to read then I’d struggle a bit – just read them all.