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review 2018-08-11 04:32
Three distinct and entertaining voices take you on a tour of Glasgow's underbelly
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

Inside the front door of the building, I checked the directory, looking to see which floor the firm was on, only to find that they used all of it. The recession hadn’t reached this far up the street. The reception area was decorated in muted shades of black and tan. Anything that didn’t share that colour scheme was made of glass. A woman who was far too young and far too skinny greeted me. She took my name and waved me into a large waiting area.

 

She didn’t whisper that she was a child slave or beg for help.

 

She didn’t ask if I could sneak her a cheeseburger.


So we are just dropped into the action here, no background, no setup, no idea who this guy narrating things is -- the very definition of in media res, and, come to think of it -- we are also dropped into the very definition of coitus interruptus. In this particular case the interruptus takes the form of a couple of guys trying to kill our narrator. Somehow, Mackie (the narrator) escapes -- though injured -- and seeks shelter at his Uncle's place -- which turns out to have been recently tossed by persons unknown (the people that came after Mackie?), and his Uncle Rab is nowhere to be found. Mackie gets patched up by his therapist and the two head out to search for Rab.

 

Once that's underway, we jump back a couple of hours in time to meet our second narrator, Sam Ireland. Sam's a newish Private Investigator who made a little splash in the news recently and is working enough to keep going, but not enough to pay rent on the office. So the office is now her apartment. It's her father's firm, but he's in a retirement home and Sam's trying to keep it alive -- with a little help from her brother. Sam's got an appointment with a potential new client, who insists on very strange meeting times (e.g., 11:23) -- it's the law office described in the quotation above. They'd read about her in the papers and wanted to hire her for some things, but first they want a test run -- they'd like her to deliver some legal papers to a local celebrity author. As Sam says "...a Glasgow celebrity. . . is one way of saying dangerous." He's writing true crime memoirs now, and there's a problem with his latest book so they need to serve him with papers -- but can't find him, can Sam? For the price they're willing to pay, yes, yes she can. The celebrity's name? Rab Anderson.You begin to see the fun here.

 

It turns out that our third narrator, DI Lambert, also has a vested interest in finding Rab. But there's the tiny little thing called a job that is interfering. There's a suspicious death that he really wants to write off as a suicide, but the guys from the Lab won't let him. He also has connections to our other narrators. He's a friend of Sam's and will occasionally bend a rule or two to help her with some information. He'd also arrested Mackie some years back on a pretty serious charge.

 

The novel is told bouncing back and forth through each of these narrators (sometimes the same scene is retold from a different perspective) -- there's a little bit of shifting back and forth through time to keep everyone at about the same point, but it's easy to follow. Each of these narrators has a great and distinctive voice -- you really don't need the chapters to tell you who is "speaking" you get it within a sentence (not that I mind the help). I could easily read an entire novel from one of their perspectives -- Lambert's wouldn't be as entertaining as either Mackie's or Sam's, but it'd still hold up. Bringing these three voices -- from radically different backgrounds, education, age, experience, vocation -- but all representing Glasgow. Mackie's a great, great character -- he's the first we get to know in this book, and in many ways, he's the heart. But Sam's the star -- she's stubborn, reckless, clever, and resourceful. That doesn't quite make up for the fact that she's a small woman with little ability to defend herself -- but she frequently has her large brother along to offset that.

 

One of my favorite parts of John Wick was how we're dropped into this extensive underground world with relationships, rules, alliances and whatnot -- as the film goes on we grow to understand them. Something very similar is at work in this novel -- we don't have a point of entry character, really (Sam's close), we have nothing really to get us oriented in this reality other than what happens when the characters interact and what we learn from that. This is a rich world full of many colorful, dangerous people. It's not long before we move beyond the hunt for Rab and dive deep into the murky waters surrounding him, Mackie and Lambert -- and hope that at least someone is able to survive before Sam gets drug under as well.

 

That metaphor may have gotten away from me. But oh well . . .

 

This is a violent book -- make no mistake. It's a visceral blood bath at times -- and its disturbing. But honestly? The hard scene to get through had no blood, no guns, knives or anything. It was a chapter where a father thinks about the trouble his daughter is in and what he can do to help her -- it's a couple of pages long, helps build the tension, it deepens the mystery, and just breaks your heart. Give me a dozen bloody corpses any day over that.

 

If there's one thing I've learned from Kate McCall and Sam Ireland, it's that daughters should not take over their father's PI business unless they're ready to learn a lot about their father that they didn't want to know. It's possible that's true for daughters taking over any business of their father's -- I'm not sure, I should probably read more about them, but I don't recall a lot of novels being written about daughter's taking over for their father's CPA firm or pizza parlor or dry cleaning business. There's a pretty big difference between these two ladies (there are plenty of similarities, now that I think about it, too). Kate is surrounded by oddballs, eccentrics, and actors up for anything who are generally good-natured and willing to help her. Sam is surrounded by people she can't trust, people she shouldn't trust, a brother who has to be harassed into helping her out, a maverick cop, and a whole lot of shady characters -- all of whom (except the brother and probably the cop) would be just as likely to drop her in a grave as they would be to lend her a helping hand.*

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am definitely coming back for more from Stringer. It's twisty, it's violent, it's got a lot of heart, it'll put a smile on your face and get you to come back for more. Check out this unique look into Glasgow.

 

* This isn't to knock McCall & Co. -- I actually rather enjoyed the book, and plan on reading the rest of the series soon. It was just a parallel I thought of when reading this.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2018/08/06/ways-to-die-in-glasgow-by-jay-stringer-three-distinct-and-entertaining-voices-take-you-on-a-tour-of-glasgows-underbelly
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review 2018-08-01 13:23
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

I'm a bit lazy during this heat wave, so I'll give you the official synopsis:

 

A violent drunk with a broken heart, Mackie looks for love in all the wrong places. When two hit men catch him with his pants down, he barely makes it out alive. Worse still, his ex-gangster uncle, Rab, has vanished, leaving him an empty house and a dead dog.

 

Reluctant PI Sam Ireland is hired by hotshot lawyers to track Rab but is getting nothing except blank stares and slammed doors. As she scours the dive bars, the dregs of Glasgow start to take notice.

 

DI Andy Lambert is a cop in the middle of an endless shift. A body washes up, and the city seems to shiver in fear; looks like it’s up to Lambert to clean up after the lowlifes again.

 

As a rampaging Mackie hunts his uncle, the scum of the city come out to play. And they play dirty. It seems that everyone has either a dark secret or a death wish. In Mackie’s case, it might just be both.

 

Ways to Die in Glasgow hits fast, hits hart, and delivers its punch with pitch black humour. It's just my kind of pulp.

 

I discovered Jay Stringer through his Eoin Miller Mysteries, some of the very few stories with a Roma lead character (although not #ownvoice). Those were set in England's Black Country, Stringer's old home. He's since moved to Glasgow, and the city became the new setting for his stories as well. Just like the Black Country, Glasgow builds a lively background for our hapless protagonists. During the course of 24 hours, they have to face murder attempts, betrayal, secrets, and ever shifting alliances. You can never be too sure who's on your side and who's gonna shoot you in the back as soon you look the other way.

 

Stringer chose a different narrative style for each of his three POV characters: 1st person past tense for Sam, close 3rd person past tense for Lambert, and the ever irritating 1st person present tense for Mackie. It's a bit gimmicky and not strictly necessary, as all three characters already have a distinct voice, but it doesn't get too annoying. Mackie's chapter are the most entertaining by far – he's not exactly sharp, but a force of nature. And he's got his priorities straight:

 

Now I'm fucked off.

Shoot me? Aye, I'm and annoying shite – I get that.

Shoot Jenny T to get to me? Well, she chose to be with me, I guess; she took her chances.

Grab my Uncle Rab? Well, Rab's pissed of a lot of people.

But shoot a dog?

I'm going to fuck them up big.

 

Mackie sets to his task with all the detective skills he's learned from watching hours of Columbo. Of course, that doesn't go well.

 

This is also one of the rare cases where the dreadful 1st person present tense not only works out, but is actually the best choice.

 

Ways to Die in Glasgow is not the most realistic story, but a fun romp, a bit like the early Guy Ritchie films. Also very brutal. Don't get too attached to the characters, they might not be around for long.

 

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text 2018-08-01 12:58
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Reading progress update: I've read 59%.
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

The taxi driver was called Murdo. He was waiting out in the car with the dinner lady. Her name was Senga. You have to love Glasgow: Once everyone figured out we had enough people named Agnes, they just reversed the letters and started again.

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text 2018-07-30 19:40
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Reading progress update: I've read 30%.
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

"Well, like I said, they tried to kill Mackie. He killed them instead. Two people, with guns, and he was naked and unarmed, and he won."

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text 2018-07-29 19:26
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Reading progress update: I've read 19%.
Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

Eek, that was unexpected.

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