Scottish Police are called to a murder scene in Glasgow’s Northern Necropolis. The body of a young woman lies stretched out over a tomb in what looks like a ritualistic murder. Her body bears a three letter message from her killer, daubed in lurid red lipstick. In the 1970s, Danny Neilson was the detective working on the infamous Red Silk murders. Still haunted by the memory of the unsolved investigation, he spots a link between the new murders and those carried out by Red Silk – details that no copycat killer could have known about. But Archibald Atto, the man suspected of the killings all those years ago, is rotting in jail…
As I said in my review for the last book Cold Grave, Craig Robertson is a brilliant author recommend both as a bookseller and a reader, perfectly capturing the unique nature of Glasgow in both location and character, as well as proving himself the equal of Rankin and MacBride in the realm of Scottish crime fiction. Despite my huge praise for the last one, I think he has outdone himself here, as once again he shifts the focus of his characterisation using the ruse of a dual timeline (venturing further back than the previous book) and with a nice little nod to the intellectual interplay of another extremely famous crime read. Quid pro quo Mr Robertson.
Witness The Dead is the third of Robertson’s series featuring Tony Winter, a scene of crime photographer who possesses a unique eye, and at times a slightly disturbing type of empathy with the victims that he photographs, but unlike Snapshot, the first, and its follow up Cold Grave, this book not only includes the usual characters, but puts into sharp focus Tony’s uncle Danny Neilson, a former policeman, and a case that has always haunted him personally. As Robertson skilfully integrates the rich detail of the 1970’s crimes and subsequent investigation, Winter and his police cohorts, find themselves at the centre of a series of murders that bear a striking resemblance to the Red Silk Murders. I really enjoyed Robertson’s careful and well-realised depiction of 70’s Glasgow, capturing the atmosphere and period detail perfectly, and Danny Neilson’s closeness to the original investigation is central to the emotional punch of these scenes in particular, as he becomes completely consumed by the case.
Likewise, the contemporary investigation, not only gives Robertson his usual latitude with his always entertaining and slightly troubled band of regular characters, but also leads the reader to an interesting mental tussle between Tony, Danny and the intriguing but evil Archibald Atto, the man convicted of the Red Silk Murders. The interplay between Winter and Atto is wonderfully disturbing, as both men recognise in each other, the seed of certain behaviours that each exhibit and deal with in contrasting ways- but how different are they really? As the pressure builds to track the modern day killer, Winter and the police team, although infused with the normal gallows humour that Robertson so wickedly carries off, find the body count growing in direct correlation to the original Red Silk case, leading to a tense and gripping investigation that keeps the reader thoroughly hooked throughout. With the undercurrent of tension between Winter and DS Rachel Narey with the ending of their formerly top secret romance, the tension between Narey and a new doppy DC who infuriates the hell out of her, and the normal blustering of her boss DI Addison being forced into a joint investigation with the equally blustering DCI Kelbie and the antipathy between them, Robertson has produced not only a cracking police procedural packed full of murder, but a brilliantly realised study of the professional and personal relationships of those who seek justice for the victims, whilst trying to keep a grip on their own sanity. A great read.
During his 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, Craig Robertson interviewed three recent Prime Ministers; attended major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann; was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India. His debut novel, RANDOM, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger and was a Sunday Times bestseller: http://authors.simonandschuster.co.uk
(I bought a trade paperback copy of Witness The Dead )