Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Crime Fiction: The Good Son by
Russel D. McLean

In Russell D. McLean’s debut novel, The Good Son (Minotaur), J. McNee is a broken-down ex-cop in Dundee, Scotland, still reeling from the death of his girlfriend Elaine. Into his life walks James Robertson, wanting closure to the recent suicide of his estranged brother, David. McNee takes the case, only to run afoul of London gangster-turned-celebrity Gordon Egg. Egg sends a couple of psychotic hard cases out to clean up the mess left behind by David Robertson. In the process, David’s lover Katrina, aka Mrs. Egg, is murdered. Private eye McNee decides to back off the investigation and focus on insurance work. But the hard cases have other ideas. And McNee, as a result of a beating, learns that his client is not telling the whole truth about the night his brother hanged himself from a tree.

The motif of a traumatized P.I. is a natural one to tell McNee’s story. Becoming a gumshoe in Scotland doesn’t invite the same respect that it might in England or America. In Scotland, especially in smaller cities such as Dundee, an investigator ranks slightly above dope pusher and below repo man. McNee doesn’t care. He spends most of his days working through insurance cases and looking for one more reason not to grieve. For whatever reason, he finds a purpose in learning what led to David Robertson’s death. It nearly kills him and his assistant, Billy.

Not as violent or coarse as fellow authors Ken Bruen and Ray Banks, McLean nonetheless skillfully mines the same ground for a bleak and desperate literary landscape. It’s easier to empathize with McNee, since his wounds are still relatively fresh. Unlike Bruen’s Jack Taylor, who admits he’s insane, or Banks’ Callum Innes, who simply stopped caring about himself a long time ago, McNee is well aware that he’s thrown up walls around himself, but seems utterly helpless in escaping them.

There’s a longer-term story McLean is creating here, and we’ve certainly not seen the last of J. McNee. Whatever comes next promises to be ever bit as hopeless and violent as The Good Son. And that’s a good thing. McLean has scored in his first novel.

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