Gallowglass (Douglas Brodie 4) by Gordon Ferris

R.I.P. Douglas Brodie…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

gallowglassDouglas Brodie is back working at the newspaper and beginning to recover from the psychological after-effects of his recent involvement in the Nazi war-crime trials. But he still hasn’t learned how to avoid danger. So when Lady Gibson asks him for help, he finds himself unable to turn her down. Her husband, Sir Fraser Gibson, the Chairman of the Scottish Linen Bank, has been kidnapped, and Lady Gibson has decided to pay the ransom without involving the police. So Brodie sets off with a briefcase full of cash to make the rendezvous on her behalf. It doesn’t go according to plan though – Sir Fraser ends up dead and Brodie is charged with his murder. His advocate girlfriend, Sam Campbell is doing everything she can to have him released, but all the evidence is against him, and Brodie can’t stand the thought of months of imprisonment followed by a probable trip to the gallows. As the book begins, we see Sam and Brodie’s mother weeping together beside his grave…it appears Brodie has taken his own life…

As we’ve come to expect from Ferris, this is a great thriller firmly rooted in the post-war Glasgow of the late 1940s. Ferris brings the city of this period to life and his use of dialect is great – it gives a real flavour of the language of the time without being so broad that it would be hard for a non-Scot to understand. This time the story centres round corruption within the banking system just as the Marshall Plan is about to be agreed (which saw the US giving economic support to the European nations to aid their recovery after the devastation of the war). With the government desperate to avoid any scandal that could jeopardise the Plan, Brodie’s old paymasters in MI5 are up against a deadline to find out the truth about Sir Fraser’s death.

Post- war Glasgiw... Photo credit: Bert Hardy/Getty Images
Post-war Glasgow…
Photo credit: Bert Hardy/Getty Images

The plot is complex and, while it’s not quite as explosive and action-packed as the early books in the series, it’s very credible and Ferris keeps it moving at a good pace throughout. The characterisation has always been a strength in the Brodie books and this is no exception. Both Brodie and Sam continue to develop and readjust to life after their wartime experiences. Wullie McAllister, chief crime reporter, is back in action and the force of his personality is in no way diminished by the fact that he’s temporarily confined to a wheelchair. Lady Gibson is a fine femme fatale in a story that may not be completely noir but certainly has its roots there. And wee Airchie Higgins is a gem of a character – a crooked accountant who’s trying to go straight, he reminded me a lot of the incomparable Russell Hunter’s performance of Lonely in the old Callan series – a rather pathetic wee man with a skewed moral code, but you can’t help but feel a sneaking sympathy and liking for him nonetheless. Very well-written, Ferris has again mixed danger and excitement with just the right amount of humour to make this a hugely enjoyable read.

Gordon Ferris
Gordon Ferris

I’m devastated to see that the Douglas Brodie books are now being billed as The Glasgow Quartet, which suggests that this fourth one is to be Brodie’s last outing. But if so, then I’m delighted to say that Ferris has maintained the high standards of this series to the end. In fact, much though I enjoyed the first two, (The Hanging Shed and Bitter Water), I felt that with the third, Pilgrim Soul, Ferris took a huge risk by breaking away from the action thriller format that had brought him so much success to give us a book that was altogether darker and more disturbing, dealing as it did with the subject of Nazi war-crimes and what we would now think of as post-traumatic stress. Now that we have all four books, we can see how Brodie’s character has changed in the few years since the end of the war – at first an all-action man, careless to a degree of his own life and others; then having to face the source of his nightmares and realise the damage that he’d suffered in the war – and finally, in this excellent last instalment, asking himself whether he can find some kind of peace and redemption, and have a future worth living. Although each works as a standalone, I would strongly suggest reading them in order to see the skilful way that Ferris develops Brodie’s character throughout. A great series, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Pilgrim Soul (Douglas Brodie 3) by Gordon Ferris

pilgrim soulDarkest places of the soul…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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.

Gordon Ferris (www.scotsman.com)
Gordon Ferris
(www.scotsman.com)

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.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US link

Bitter Water (Douglas Brodie 2) by Gordon Ferris

Bitter WaterMurderin’ bampots…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This is the second in Ferris’ Douglas Brodie series which started as a Kindle sensation with The Hanging Shed. Tartan Noir at its finest, putting Brodie’s Glasgow right up beside Rebus’ Edinburgh.

Brodie is now working as a crime journalist in Glasgow when a spate of vigilante attacks hits the city. At the same time, his colleague, senior reporter Wullie McAllister is covering the murder of a councillor and suspects corruption at the heart of Glasgow Corporation. Brodie’s relationship with Sam Campbell is still on-off as she struggles to get over the after-effects of their last adventure.

Gordon Ferris
Gordon Ferris

Ferris doesn’t stint on violence and gore as the attacks and murders mount up and in true thriller style the climax is explosive. But along the way we are treated to some great humour, much of it very black. However the thing that makes these books really stand out is Ferris’ descriptions of post-war Glasgow (Brodie has only recently returned to Glasgow after serving as a major in the Second World War) and his completely authentic use of Glasgow slang. No psychopathic killers here – these men are murderin’ bampots. I’m not old enough to remember Glasgow in the forties, but the language and attitudes of the characters chime in with my own memories of how people of my parents’ generation talked and felt.

Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow
Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow

The locations are so accurately described they whisk me back in time, though some of the places still exist today. The Horseshoe Bar, for instance, is still a thriving institution. Ferris writes so well that you never get the impression he’s researched the period – you feel certain he must actually have lived in it.

In my view, Ferris is the most exciting new Scottish crime writer on the scene and in Brodie he has developed an attractive, compelling lead character whose second outing is even better than the first. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link