The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid by Craig Russell

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The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid by Craig Russell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A Marlowesque tale of private eyes up against the bad guys set in 1950s Glasgow delivers a fair imitation of Chandler's greats but without his sureness of touch. Nevertheless an entertaining read with characters you want to see win through – or not!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2016
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780874883

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Everybody liked quiet Tommy Quaid, a professional burglar who like Norman Stanley Fletcher saw arrest and imprisonment as occupational hazards and on the rare occasion he was nabbed, he'd raise his hands and come quiet. Turns out that's not what his nickname meant at all. Turns out there was a lot about Quiet Tommy Quaid that a lot of people didn't know. Even those who thought they knew him well, who thought they were his friends.

They were his friends. What they didn't know, was because he didn't want them to, but he left messages for the people he cared about. Messages that if anything should ever happen to him – what, they asked, could possibly ever happen to Quiet Tommy – if it should, there was one person they could trust. Only one.

Lennox is a private investigator. He's a Canadian who somehow ended up in Glasgow after the war and there he stayed. By the war, we're talking the 1939-45 one. The war still even to my generation of Brits for whom it was history before we were born, and who have a tendency to discount all the conflicts and troubles and skirmishes and storms we've been involved in since. But for Lennox it was just the war, because we're back in the 1950s. For him it was very recent life.

He hasn't quite gotten over whatever he did out there. Sometimes the anger still takes him, and he loses it. When he does, sometimes people will come of very much worse for provoking him. Unfortunately, sometimes so does he.

One day, he's looking out of his dingy office window – Marlow-style – watching a commotion across at the train station, when in walks McNaught: a military gent, with a strange, probably not strictly legal commission with enough of a pay-check to make it worth Lennox not only taking it on without paying heed to his gut that is screaming 'don't be stupid' at him, but to do so without involving his partner. True enough his partner is ex-police, so maybe won't be quite so chuffed.

It's a strange job, it doesn't make any sense, but with the right fellow along for the technical stuff, it'll be easy. Lennox knows just the chap.

Marlow-like… I can't help that's the source of Russell's inspiration for the style of the telling. I haven't read any of the previous four books in the series, but I am tempted. Like the Chandler novels, we're told the story in a very personal way. First person singular. Lennox has the same dark humour as Marlow and the same picturesque turn of phrase. Unfortunately, Russell tends to overwork it on occasions. Spend too long in Lennox's company and you just wish he'd quit with the analogies and similes for a while. At times it has the feeling of a sit-com where the writers have stopped arguing over whose jokes make the cut so they just throw them all in. The problem with that is that it lifts the tone just a tad too far out of the dark, rainy, grime of fifties Glasgow where it belongs.

As much as he captures the mood and feel of the place, I also felt every now and then the jarring of a phrase that was just too modern. Maybe that's why I'm not comfortable with the bland description of the crime at the heart of this story – not QT's death but the reason for it. Perhaps it does fit with how people talked back then, though I'm not convinced of that either. There isn't enough genuine shock horror detail to carry the consequences. The deliciously dark humour would work better balanced by some sour genuine darkness, which is unfortunately only hinted at.

As a mystery it works. As a thriller it doesn't, quite. So on its own tenets, it probably only warrants a three-star rating – but I'm going to be generous because I'm judging it on my tenets and not those of the fly-leaf listing and I enjoyed it. I loved someone being described as having a build that made the Forth Bridge look flimsy, a torture described as a bolt-cutter pedicure, but such taught expressions drown in -like and -style descriptors: a shed-like building boathouse-like building a military-style moustache… so: it's good, but it's not great, but it wins in holding you to the page and making you care that whoever killed Quiet Tommy Quaid gets some quietness of their own.

For more Glasgow crime we can recommend The Twilight Time by Karen Campbell.

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