I’ve had problems before with Glasgow dialect in novels, spending so much time deciphering it that I lost the enjoyment of reading the text. I really crossed my fingers that Squeaky Clean would be readable, and my heart fell slightly when we met some of the characters that frequent the car wash that makes the inspired main setting of this novel and they opened their mouths… Tim and Davey have been given the job of doing a full valet on a big black 4×4…
… a fine dusting of white powder had gathered in the corners. “Big man’s had a heavy night.”
“An doesnae want his bird tae know aboot it. Cannae go hame wae spunk aw oer the seats and charlie oan the mats.”
But you know what? I decided I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I just read it out aloud in my head as written on the page – and it phonetically translates itself! Bar the odd dialect word, I found I could understand Davey Burnet just fine.
The story begins with our hapless DI Alison McCoist. The prologue explains how she was led to send the wrong man to prison in a murder case – the evidence was clear to her – but Paul ‘Paulo’ McGuinn escaped. Her colleagues snicker at her unfortunate name which doesn’t go down well in some quarters (Ally McCoist is a fitba pundit and former St Johnstone and Glasgow Rangers player), and they can’t believe that she isn’t bent in letting McGuinn get away it. With that heaped upon her shoulders, she gets all the lesser cases, which is why she ends up at Sean’s car wash after a customer reported him for an altercation.
Davey keeps his head down, he is trying to get back together with his estranged girlfriend who has sole custody of their daughter Annaleese. But when the big black 4×4 comes in again, he realises he’d forgotten his next court date, so he borrows the car to get to the court the other side of the city – prangs it – and gets beaten up by two thugs who’d trailed him thinking he was the car’s owner – Paulo McGuinn!
Things are about to get very complicated and painful for poor Davey. McGuinn who is thankful that Davey got the beating intended for him, takes over the car wash, getting Sean to store some guns for him. Sean sacks Tim rather than get him involved, but Davey has no choice in the matter – soon he’s in over his head. McGuinn is a murdering bastard – there are several scenes of the most vile torture in this novel – you have been warned. And Davey finds two unlikely allies: a lawyer who Tim has gone to do work experience with, and DI McCoist, who keeps turning up.
Will Davey survive and get to see his daughter again?
Will DI McCoist make up for her previous mistake by getting McGuinn this time?
These two characters are so well drawn, we get to know them both really well. McSorley intends this to be the first in a series for DI McCoist, so we know we’ll get to see her again. She is a flawed cop – aren’t they all? But she is very human – she’s divorced with two kids who visit on alternate weekends but finds it hard to engage with them as they’re growing up. The answer turns out to be getting a dog – but not by conventional means – she nicks a puppy from a puppy farm she is sent to close down. Over the course of the novel, the puppy will be toilet trained, and bond strongly with both her and her kids, but her
rescue theft doesn’t go unnoticed by her super, she’ll need to bring in the goods to get it overlooked.
There is an obvious comparison to be made between McSorley and Chris Brookmyre. I’ve read quite a few of Brookmyre’s novels, although not for a few years. They are crime thrillers, full of action, often with recurring characters, and key to Brookmyre’s oeuvre is the dark humour that runs through them, and All Fun And Games until Someone Loses an Eye won the seventh Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2006. McSorley shares the dark humour and Tartan Noir, but I don’t recall torture scenes in Brookmyre like that in Squeaky Clean.
That caveat apart for those who can’t read the gore, Squeaky Clean introduces us to a new Scottish author who now has that task of the sometimes ‘difficult second novel’ ahead of him. Me? I can’t wait to read more about DI Alison McCoist. I don’t think I’ve read such a good crime debut since Joseph Knox’s Sirens, so would heartily recommend Squeaky Clean, with its inspired squeegeed cover.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Pushkin Vertigo hardback, 384 pages.
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3 thoughts on “Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley – blogtour”
I’m glad the dialect worked out in the end. Cringeworthy when it’s done badly but I could hear that quote in my head clearly.
That was a relief I’ll admit, as Davey probably says more than most other characters in the book. McCoist was great fun though – I’ll look forward to encountering her again.
There’s another book called Pachinko by Ming Jing Lee that’s been made into a TV series on one of the streaming platforms, maybe that’s why.