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It's 1947, the worst winter in memory is only just getting started, and Duncan Brodie is a crime reporter working the streets of Glasgow for the Gazette. The reason he's good at reporting is probably just natural talent and a decent education. The reason he's good at crime is that he's a trained investigator.

Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: As the snow starts to fall on Glasgow in 1947 the worst winter has yet to make its teeth felt - likewise, as small domestic crime spree grows into something much worse for investigating reporter Duncan Brodie. A distinctive voice, vicious crime against sharp political backdrops and characters you can genuinely warm to - what's not to love? Add intelligence, fluidity and tight plotting. I think we'll see a lot more of Duncan Brodie.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 379 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Corvus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857897626

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He was a police detective before the war.

He's hardened to the ordindary blood guts and gore of street crime, not just because of the fighting in the army, but because when it was all over, he had the unfortunate duty of being among the first into Belsen, when the camp was liberated and the even harder-hitting duty of interrogating the guilty before the trials at Lüneberg. Duncan Brodie is a hardened man. But he screams in his sleep. He is also a damaged one.

That goes without question for your modern detective hero. It seems we don't want our policemen, to be normal, well-balanced individuals with no demons. Odd, that. But at least in this case the demons aren't of Brodie's own making.

True, he drinks a bit more than he should. And he carries a gun, even when, strictly speaking he's not licensed to. And of course, his love-life should be complicated. Again, it is a requirement of the genre. If you are a male detective, and not as happily married as Wexford or Barnaby, then there must be a very good reason for that.

All credit to Ferris for coming up with a new reason for the complication. It isn't that Brodie's playing the field. He's fairly sure he's found the love of his life. His landlady: Samantha Campbell. Only she's an Advocate, and if she married him (or anyone else) she'd have to give up her job. This is 1947 remember. Lady lawyers are a rare breed, married ones are practically non-existent. So for now, Brodie has to be content with renting a room in her charming (if freezing) Glasgow town house, and occasionally sharing her bed. The latter being something that they keep very much to themselves.

Plot-wise, having a lawyer on the team, particularly one with direct access to the Procurator, might be useful to. Ferris has clearly thought this through.

So, here we have our battle-scarred reporter and his girlfriend going about their ordinary slightly sordid business, but generally being reasonably happy with life, when Sam has a proposition. There's been a spate of burglaries in the local Jewish community, and for some reason the police don't seem to be that keen on looking into them. Would Brodie take on the investigation? There's a decent £20 a week in it, and a bonus for the capture.

As it turns out finding the thief isn't that hard...only then he is found brutally murdered at what looks like another burglary site...

...the body count has only just started to rise.

By now, Brodie's done the decent thing and got the real police involved, but on the downside, his supporter Sam is called to do her own tour of duty in the war crimes trials and heads off to Hamburg. She soon learns a little of why Brodie is the way he is.

Back in Glasgow, the robberies are starting to look more like a search than a random hit-list of wealthy Jews. Gold. Unmarked gold starts to surface with a trail leading back to the camps. Whatever Brodie has got himself into, it is more than a little spate of domestic robberies.

His own past will start to catch up with him, as both the police and then the army, seem to think he might be useful and then his old sparring partner Danny Macrae, veteran of their days in the police and of his own nightmare war, bursts back onto the scene.

This is historical crime with a real hard edge.

The politics of the time at both global and local level are woven into the whole. The UK government was doing its best to manage a country blighted by war, constrained by rationing and logistically shut down by weather. Oversees the Jews were setting about gaining a state recognised by the U.N. by brute force (a.k.a. terrorism). This isn't the place to argue the rights and wrongs of those actions, and Ferris wisely takes the same view. He doesn't take a fundamental position on the establishment of the state of Israel – but allows his characters, Jewish parents who came through the camps, and those who escaped that fate, and their children grown in the relative freedom of other countries, and British army personnel and their families, people on all sides (except the displaced Palenstinian – who we were supposed to speaking for) to put their case – and moves on.

In Europe, the hot war is over, but the cold war is only just beginning.

All of this matters. These things seem a world away from petty crime, but as Ferris shows us, often they're not. Often such matters generate the lower level actions, or worsen them, or sanction them.

Domestic details sit easily behind the action. Sam and Brodie's relationship serves to give us insights both into Brodie's character and into the spirit and reality of the times. It might seem odd to today's young that a bag of coal would be a truly welcome Christmas gift. I don't go back that far, but even for my generation many of the presents would be things you actually needed and couldn't afford rather than just the meeting of frivolous desires.

There's a high body-count and violence of the fast and dirty kind. Slight touches of humour, mostly dark. But mostly it's a mystery, with a touch of the thrill-chase deeply embedded. A highly intelligent book, that reads with a touch of reality that had me wanting to look up the historical details to check where fact ended and fiction started (an author's note saved me the trouble).

Upsetting isn't usually a term I deploy when talking about crime fiction. It's meant to be easy-reading entertainment. This one wasn't easy. It caught me emotionally both on the fictional outcomes for the characters, but also on the very real facts behind it all.

I very much look forward to Brodie's next outing.

It's always good to get in at the beginning, so if you like this, catch up with what you've missed by getting the first instalment the Hanging Shed or for modern Glaswegian crime, I also enjoyed Dark Angels by Grace Monroe.

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