Open Wounds (Davie McCall 4) by Douglas Skelton

Genuine Tartan Noir…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

open woundsDavie McCall is a gangster with a moral code – he doesn’t hurt women, children or ‘civilians’. But that doesn’t stop him from hurting other people – badly, when they’ve done something that crosses one of his personal lines. He’s always felt in control of his violence though, until recently, when he suddenly found he was enjoying it. Now he wants out of the ‘Life’, but he’s scared – not of what his boss might do to him, but scared that he won’t be able to change, won’t be able to leave the desire for violence behind him. Meantime, he’s still working as a heavy for Rab McClymont, who’s not just his boss but an old friend. So when Rab asks him to lean on a man, Fergus O’Neill, at first Davie’s fine with that. O’Neill was convicted a few years back of a horrific burglary that involved rape, but is now out pending appeal and is publicly accusing Rab of having fitted him up for the crime. When Davie begins to believe that O’Neill may have been innocent, he still can’t believe that Rab would have been involved in a rape, even indirectly. So he begins to investigate…

This is a great book that I’m strongly recommending you don’t read. At least not straight away. It’s actually the fourth and final book in the Davie McCall quartet, and I very much wish I’d read them in order, partly because there are lots of references to the previous books in this one which meant I was a bit lost at the beginning, and partly because having now read this one, the first three will have been a little spoiled for me since I know how the series resolves. That won’t stop me reading them though! The first in the series is Blood City.

The book is set in Glasgow gangster culture and has a totally authentic feel to it. These are low level gangsters, running dodgy businesses, small-time drug dealing, protection rackets and loan-sharking. As well as giving a great sense of place, using mainly real locations, Skelton has a complete grip on Glaswegian “patter”, the humour that covers the harshness of life on the edges of society. The dialogue isn’t really written in dialect so non-Scots would have no difficulties with it, but the speech patterns and “voices” are spot on.

Normally I would have a serious problem with being able to empathise with a man who uses violence as a tool, but Skelton provides a ton of moral ambiguity, both about Davie’s victims and regarding his background, that makes him understandable. And his own internal struggle to hold onto some kind of moral code lets the reader be on his side, willing him to win out against the demons that haunt him. I couldn’t help but think of McIlvanney’s Laidlaw – Davie might be how Laidlaw would have turned out if he’d been born into the life of the gangster, and with a few better breaks in life Davie could have turned into Laidlaw. They share that sense of clear-sighted vision about the society they move in, the same philosophical acceptance that there’s only so much any one man can do to change things and the same core of morality that makes them swim against the tide even when they feel themselves being sucked under.

Douglas-Skelton
Douglas Skelton

Though I struggled at first from not having read the earlier books, by about a third of the way through I had gathered enough about the background for that aspect to stop being an issue, and from that stage in this worked fine as a standalone. The plotting is great, with several strands weaving in and out of each other. Davie is a kind of mentor to a younger thug, trying hard to stop him from losing his humanity. He’s increasingly at odds with his boss Rab, whose growing suspicions of Davie’s motives threaten their old friendship. There’s a corrupt police officer on the take, and this strand is handle particularly well – Skelton shows him believably as the exception rather the rule within the police, disliked as much by his fellow officers as by the lowlifes he bullies and uses. The characterisation throughout is exceptional, with every character ringing true – no clichés or stereotypes here. And in the end all the strands come together to an ending which is credible and satisfying without being falsely uplifting.

This is genuine Tartan Noir, grounded in the real recognisable Glasgow of today – a rare treasure amidst some of the overblown melodramatic dross which is so often wrongly acclaimed as giving an authentic picture of life here. I’m delighted to have stumbled across Douglas Skelton and he is now part of that select band of Scottish crime writers to whose future books I will look forward with keen anticipation.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Luath Press.

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43 thoughts on “Open Wounds (Davie McCall 4) by Douglas Skelton

  1. Oooh this does sound like a very, very good book, FF! I especially like that the ‘bent cop’ doesn’t come across as a stereotype – that sort of thing is so hard to get right, I think. Three cheers for Mr Skelton!

    • Excellent! Yes, I hate when all the police are made out to be corrupt or incompetent, but I thought he handled it really well – showed how hard it is for the police to deal with a maverick in their ranks. It felt pretty credible to me – I’d be interested, actually, what you thought of it, given your own experience. So you need to read these four books… once you escape from The Wake! 😉

  2. I think the premise of this one is so interesting, FictionFan! I like the moral ambiguity very much, and it sounds very atmospheric. The characters sound layered, too, which is a plus for me. And I’m always appreciative when authors give a solid sense of place and culture in their books.

    • Yes, I think moral ambiguity can be difficult to get right but I thought he did it very well. The characterisation was great, and I really felt it was the most authentic picture of Glasgow low-life I’ve read in ages. Just wish I’d read these in the right order…

  3. Interesting what you said about the moral code. Just after reading your first sentence, I felt a bit of ridiculous relief! Like, at least the man wouldn’t go after my children or me. But I’m afraid my husband is out of luck! haha. One day you’ll have to podcast one of your reviews. Scottish accents are the very best! I’m afraid I’d read this book with an American accent and it would really ruin it.

    • Haha! Your husband would be safe too, so long as he didn’t do anything Davie disapproved of…

      Ooh, no!!! I absolutely hate the sound of my voice on recordings – I just don’t believe that’s what I sound like at all! And I’m rubbish at reading aloud. But this guy gets the speech patterns so right you’d probably find you were speaking in a Glasgow accent before long…

  4. I see you’ve tagged the Brodie books along with these. They were what I first thought of, and I see the link to Laidlaw. Praise indeed. I’ll look out for these.

    • Oh, it’s actually the blog programme that decides on ‘related’ but it’s really accurate this time. Yes, thi is up there with the Brodies. He doesn’t have the same quality of prose as McIlvanney, though he’s good, but his characterisation and general atmosphere reminded me of Laidlaw very much.

  5. Sounds excellent! I especially like the lack of stereotypes because I understand how hard it can be to not do that. Perhaps they should have included a note of some sort suggesting readers read the series in order??

    • Yes, stereotyping is hard to avoid, but I really felt he managed it. To be honest, the book is clearly marked as number 4, but I was sent it as part of the Bloody Scotland shortlisting thing and didn’t have time to read the other ones first. But though I enjoyed this, I definitely think these ones do need to be read in order to get the best out of them.

  6. A great review! This does sound like a promising quartet of books (if only I had more time) to get stuck into, plus I got the comparison to Laidlaw because, yes, I’ve finally read the first in the series. Get me!

    • It’s just been longlisted for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year – now coincidentally renamed the McIlvanney Prize! Ooh, I hope you enjoyed it! I’m getting to the stage I’ll be too scared to visit your blog for a while… 😉

  7. Rab is a great name. What does he exactly do to people? Sounds like a book I once read (long ago, mind) about a fellow who took the law into his own hands at times. All the times, actually.

    I bet he’s related to Red Skelton!

    • WOB gets called Rab sometimes! He tortures them by reading Burns poetry to them while forcing them to eat black pudding. *shudders* Yeah, these kind of people are more fun to read about than to meet, I think…

      I know the name but can’t think who he is. With a first name Red, I’m guessing American…

  8. This sounds like an excellent book. But since I hear so much about this sort of thing thanks to jury duty, I’ll wait on this until I’m off duty (which won’t be for a long while).

    • It’s mainly because I get review copies so my choice is determined by what’s the latest release, and partly because I think the first in a series is often the weakest and can put me off, whereas later books tend to be more polished and then I don’t mind backtracking. But with this one, it was because, I don’t know if you heard me mention, I got involved with longlisting for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, and this is one of the books I was sent. So I had to read it within a strict timescale and didn’t have time to read the other ones first…

      • The Book of the Year is judged based on book reviewers? That sounds like fun! I think I’m just a little anal (there has to be a better expression), so I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams read a book out of order. That would involve letting go of some control….which I don’t do well! Also, Boris Johnson is not running for PM! Hooray! I did a little cheer for you in my kitchen this morning when I heard 😀 It sounds like poor Cathy is having a hard time reading, too, over Brexit.

        • Doesn’t even need to be reviewers – just readers. They asked for volunteers through their newsletter, and they did ask for a ‘statement’ of why you thought you’d be suitable, but I’m guessing “I read loads of crime novels” would have been enough. Haha! I read out of order all the time and constantly say I won’t do it anymore…

          I know! Hurrah! But then that leaves us with Michael Gove or Theresa May… if you’d asked me a week ago if I wanted Theresa May as PM, I’d have laughed. Now I’m praying she gets in to keep Gove out… *shudders* I reckon it’s caused a major depression – I’ve seen so many comments from Brits saying they can’t concentrate on anything. It’s genuinely like grieving. But, like everything, we’re beginning to get used to the idea now, I think…

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