Readers of crime fiction in Scotland have, in recent years, been spoiled by the quality and diversity of books by local authors. From the Rebus (and latterly Fox) of Ian Rankin to the Bob Skinner novels by Quintin Jardine via Denise Mina’s gritty social realism (most notably in her Garnethill trilogy) and the black comedy of Scotland’s answer to Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Brookmyre.
R.J. Mitchell is the latest addition to the Tartan Noir scene, with his novels featuring Glasgow CID officers Thoroughood and Hardie, of which The Hurting: The Glasgow Terror is the second. It concerns a plot by Islamic fundamentalists to carry out Jihad in Glasgow and cracks along apace, with the highest body count of any novel I’ve read recently and plenty of shocks along the way. There’s even a spot of water-boarding for good measure.
The book opens at a police convalescence home, with Thoroughood recovering from the trauma of the death of his lover at the hands of his nemesis, Declan Meechan. As his return to work grows nearer, he harbours thoughts of suicide – on his way back to Glasgow he even engineers a brush with death during a chance encounter with one of Glasgow’s most prolific housebreakers who also happens to have a taste for violence.
On returning to service, Thoroughgood, with his CID colleague Hardie, is assigned to what at first appears to be a straightforward missing persons case. However, the missing person is actually a Jihadist, who carries out the first in a series of terrorist attacks on the city. From here, the attrocities mount, one of which is a particularly effectively written scene where a sniper randomly fires on innocent victims out and about on a Saturday morning. The Hurting’s dénouement takes place at Ibrox Stadium, where the Jihadists are intent on perpetrating an atrocity on an even greater scale than both 7/7 and 9/11.
While this is a highly entertaining read, there is little space between the violent set pieces for subtlety, or for light and shade. The terrorists, especially Tariq, Imam of the Glasgow Central Mosque, are stereotyped to the point of caricature – all venomous smiles and cackling laughter. Both Thoroughood and Hardie are likeable characters, in spite of the fact that the former has the worst taste in music of any literary detective I know of. He also manages, despite being almost destroyed by the death of his lover, to sleep with two of the book’s female characters – hooking up with one of them while rescuing her after she is kidnapped by the terrorists.
The author is a former policeman, and he uses his CID experience to good effect in this novel. The set- pieces are rendered in a breathless, Boy’s Own manner, and the Glasgow setting, particularly the undergound passages of ’old’ Glasgow, is convincing. However, his dialogue is overheated – his characters appear to be projecting to the back row rather than speaking with each other like normal people. This is a book where a lot of things happen, one after the other, with little in the way of sub-plot or sub-text. Fans of Quintin Jardine’s feverishly action-packed novels will enjoy The Hurting. Others, who prefer their crime fiction coloured by shades of grey, may find it slightly unsatisfying.