see nerd blog — small glasses

These are becoming dark times, and Scotland’s good at dark. I enjoy Scottish noir, or at least Scottish detective novels, such as the Rebus series, and want some more. So I picked up Whisky from Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrick. It’s the first in a fairly new series of detective novels.

The setting, the Mull of Kintyre, is described brilliantly. I’ve never been there, yet now I feel it’s lying somewhere in my past, such are the quality of the Meyrick’s words. The normal people, their conversations, the places, all are bought beautifully alive.

The novel itself presents a pretty good mystery for the hero detective, DCI Daley, to clear up. It’s well paced, with some unexpected surprises to stop the bedtime reader getting off to sleep.

But I have some problems with this book. The author comes across as great at painting normal people and their lives, but not so good at inventing the odd. It’s not that I’ve got experience with the abnormal, it’s more that those characters didn’t really work for me. It’s as though Meyrick is great at describing what he’s seen and experienced, but can’t quite bring the same qualities to things he invents.

Secondly, which it probably more a comment on my dimness, there were a couple of times in the book when the detective sees something from the situation, and jumps to conclusions which turn out to be correct. I didn’t understand how he got to them, and I wanted the author to tell me. Sergeant Scott, DCI Daley’s ‘Watson’, didn’t do a good job of forcing an explanation out of his boss. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a quality character, and the banter between him and his boss was delicious, but I wanted some suitable dimness so he would get the great detective to reveal how he worked the baddie out.

Finally, although the mystery itself, the details, the resolvers, and many other things were fine, I got really frustrated with yet another detective with (spoilers) marital problems, the nasty criminal being very nasty to the poor detective’s wife, especially when that was built on a coincidence. Ok, so chance plays an important role in real life, but, please, not as the crux of the plot in a whodunnit. I found myself muttering things like “not again” and “here we go” as certain plot techniques were played out like clockwork storytelling, in this book as in so many others. A nasty scene near the end, when the baddie showed the detective a corpse, was so effing obvious I just got annoyed.

Having said that, in the middle of the cliché situation were some great moments of character, and the traditional fight to the death scene was sustained well. The characters grow from their experience, and they do so naturally.

I suppose I should have treated the plot like a piece of folk music, the same bloody song sung well by someone who knows how to bring life to traditional music. The trouble is I prefer the fresh to the stale, no matter how cleverly toasted.

The novel is clearly written to be the first in a series. Indeed, a particular character appears, to my mind, to be set up well to become a baddie in a future book in the series. He’s far more real to me that this book’s evil self–declared genius. The motivation, the pain, the background, could make a very sympathetic nasty man leaving future books’ readers with a difficult moral quandary to consider. There’s a second character set up as a future baddie in the very last scene in the novel, which I felt was unnecessary. I would have preferred that scene to have been omitted; it’s taken away a potentially juicy mystery in a future novel.

So, this is a promising first novel, which some great descriptions and some excellent characterisation, but I do hope Meyrick can drop the need to recycle clichéd plot devices.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by David Monteath. He’s good. I’m sure part of the reason the well–written setting was bought so alive for me was Monteath’s narration.

I will read more Meyrick: I can feel Kintyre breathe in his writing.

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