Tuesday, 9 June 2009
A Wee Review - Gutted by Tony Black
I read Tony Black’s Gutted amid a binge of Allan Guthrie novels. Both writers are Edinburgh based and both set their novels in and around Leith. Their work is very different in style and tone, but it’s undeniable that they each possess a huge talent for writing. Black has received high praise from Ken Bruen, and the protagonist of Gutted, Gus Dury, is reminiscent of Bruen’s recurring character, Jack Taylor. But again, differences in style and tone set the two characters apart. Dury is not the poor man’s Taylor. He’s a devastated and tragic hero whose strong moral compass is sometimes clouded by the ‘scoosh’ (cheap scotch).
From the opening sentences we immediately get the measure of Gus Dury. He hears screams in the woods and although he knows it’s a stupid thing to do, he hurls himself directly at the source. And when he discovers a bunch of youths torturing a dog tied to a tree, he lets rip on them, outnumbered or not. Unfortunately, he literally stumbles upon something downright gruesome during the scuffle. And being the man that he is, he allows the discovery to suck him in to an investigation that’ll fair put him through his paces.
Black brilliantly captures the damaged mind of a man who can’t see a life for himself without drink. Dury was once a great investigative journalist with a wife and a good life. But, as is so often the case, alcohol, that demanding mistress, stripped him of everything but a bar he inherited from a late friend. Yeah, an alcoholic with his own bar. Couldn’t be healthy. But his contacts from his former life are still at his disposal, all be it unwillingly in most cases. And so, he’s become something of a private investigator. But he’s more than that. He’s also a drunken social commentator. Dury is exasperated by the modern world of celebrity worship, trendy bars and reality TV. The fury of Dury is let loose more than once in Gutted and he rants his pants off on just about any topic he can think of. And if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself nodding along to this grizzled nutter’s diatribes.
Black has rejuvenated the often imitated drunken PI in his work. He’s also rejuvenated an interest in Edinburgh that I first worked up while reading Irvine Welsh’s work. We get an inner city tour as Dury travels the street in ‘jo-baxis’ (taxis), buses and on foot. And reconnecting with wonderful Leith slang-words like jakey, chibbing and schemie was a real treat. And in reading the slang and enjoying the moments of black humour, it struck me again and again how closely tied the Scottish are to the Northern Irish. I look forward to more work from this guy and his Scottish contemporaries.
You want something even more refreshing than a pint or two of the black stuff? Then give Tony Black’s stuff ago. And the morning after, your head will be clearer and you won’t smell as bad either.
Gutted will be released in June 2009.