As he adjusted his belt he heard a stream of expletives issuing from two youths who were seated in front of him. The young men were not being intentionally offensive; in the west of Scotland punctuation was gradually being replaced by curses. He and Liz had recently spent a weekend in York, and he remembered being surprised by the absence of swearing.
Detective Inspector Jim Daly works for the Strathclyde Police in Glasgow, under a superior who used to be his friend but has now become a perfect political animal. When a woman’s body washes up near the scenic small town of Kinloch on the Kintyre peninsula, Jim is sent to lead the investigation. The woman had been tortured before being strangled, and when another woman is found also tortured to death, it looks as if a serial killer is at large. But the two women had ties to the local drug trade as well, and that proves to be a bigger operation the closer they look.
That’s the premise of Whisky from Small Glasses, an impressive first novel by Denzil Meyrick. The book has many virtues – an obvious love for the Kintyre scenery, lively, often humorous, dialogue (though much of it is in dialect which some Americans will find it hard following), and very interesting, layered characters. Jim Daly is mostly a good man and a good cop, though he has trouble with his temper and is insecure about his weight and his relationship with his beautiful wife, whom he adores in spite of known unfaithfulness. His friend and colleague Scott is a drunken, profane man raised on the streets, but a good cop and a loyal friend. His superior, Donald, seems fairly slimy, but sometimes shows moments of genuine wisdom. However, he also gives us glimpses of something far darker.
The minor characters also bubble to life. I was particularly pleased with the genuine affection for small town life that’s on view – it’s an easy, cheap shot for writers to condescend to village folk, but author Meyrick is having none of that. The townspeople are a canny lot, and infuriating in their ability to know everybody’s business almost immediately, whether the police want it kept quiet or not. There’s also an amusing old fisherman with the second sight, to make cryptic predictions.
Serious, funny, and occasionally touching, Whisky from Small Glasses is a superior, rewarding crime novel. Cautions for language (as the excerpt above suggests) and mature, often gory, subject matter.