Monday, December 8, 2008

Paying for It by Tony Black

Publisher: Preface, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84809-021-7

First line: Funerals make my eyes water.

Gus Dury is an alcoholic on a downward spiral. He had a promising career as a journalist until he was involved in an unfortunate incident with a member of the Scottish parliament. With no job and no prospects, and his wife starting divorce proceedings, life looks much better through the bottom of glass.

When his mate Col’s twenty year old son, Billy, is killed, the official verdict is suicide. Col knows it was murder and asks Gus to investigate. Gus soon finds that Billy was working for a Russian gangster called Zalinskas and had got himself in way over his head.

As he delves deeper into Zalinskas' business dealings, Gus discovers a people-trafficking operation smuggling in girls from Eastern Europe to work in brothels, and uncovers police and political corruption at the highest levels. He is warned off a number of times, in increasingly violent ways. But Gus is not an easy man to intimidate, and he doggedly continues on to the shocking conclusion.

PAYING FOR IT is a terrific first novel from yet another Scottish crime writer. (What do they put in the water there?!) The Edinburgh that author Tony Black portrays is a very dark place, but it's not just the criminal underworld that is so dangerous and brutal. Flashbacks to Gus's horrendous childhood with an extremely violent and abusive father, show that home isn't always the safe place it should be.

Gus is a hard man with a smart mouth. He has a black humour, and his speech and thoughts are peppered with slang and classic noir-style metaphors. His character develops a depth and complexity that isn't immediately apparent, and despite all his faults, he is a likeable character. His life may be a complete mess, but underneath he's a decent, caring person and a loyal friend. He reminds me a lot of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor.

I have one minor quibble – the constant naming of cigarette brands. It seemed every time Gus lit up (which was quite often) he smoked a different brand, and for some reason we had to be told this. However, although irritating, it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

With plenty of action, smart dialogue, a pacy plot, and a group of likeable characters, PAYING FOR IT is a splendid debut.

Tony Black is a journalist living in Edinburgh. He was born in Newcastle, NSW (hey, that's where I live!) but grew up in Scotland and Ireland. PAYING FOR IT is his first novel, and with the second, GUTTED, in the wings, hopefully this is just the beginning of a long series about Gus Dury.

For more information visit Tony Black's website.

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