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The first two novels in the Douglas Brodie series were very good noir thrillers – fast-paced, explosive and full of black humour. This one is very different and takes the Brodie series to another and much darker level.
Brodie is asked to investigate a spate of burglaries in Glasgow’s post-war Jewish community. But when the burglar is found murdered it gradually becomes clear that there is a connection that leads back to the horrors of the concentration camps – horrors that Brodie has been trying to forget since his role as interrogator of war criminals after the war.
Ferris handles this dark and difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity and humanity. The details he gives of some of the dreadful acts that were carried out in the camps are kept to the minimum necessary for the development of the story – Ferris carefully avoids the use of gratuitous detail. Instead he concentrates on how these events are still affecting his characters, including a very moving portrayal of what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of the men of my father’s generation, the ones who came back – a generation who mainly bottled up their feelings about their war experiences, who talked of the camaraderie of war but not the horrors, and I felt that in some way Ferris was giving these men a voice that the stiff-upper-lip culture of the time had perhaps denied them.
But although the subject matter means that this book is much darker than the previous ones, this is also a first-rate, tightly plotted thriller – well-paced, plenty of action and still with room for occasional flashes of humour. Brodie’s relationship with Sam is developed further and Danny McRae, hero of Ferris’ other series, plays a part in this one too. In a previous review, of Bitter Water, I compared Gordon Ferris to Ian Rankin. This book leads me to compare him to Reginald Hill, an author who could give his readers intelligently light entertainment in one book then take them to the darkest places of the human soul in the next. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the Brodie books but this one also moved me deeply – highly recommended.