Friday, February 25, 2011

The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris

The book is set in the later forties in Glasgow. Douglas Brodie is drifting in London after leaving the army when he gets a call from his old friend Hugh (Shug) Donovon. Hugh is in prison, destined to hang for murder. Brodie travels north, reluctant to help because he and Hugh fell out before the war, over a woman. Brodie is rapidly drawn into a world he thought he had left behind as his roots overwhelm him with memories, and also a new world of murdered children, drug dealers and the underbelly of Glasgow criminal life.

Brodie meets Samantha Campbell, Hugh's defense lawyer and is persuaded to help her attempt to clear Hugh. Their efforts involve them with the Slatterys, hard men from Ireland who control the drug trade with a rod of iron and the threat of death, frequently more than a threat. A cast of crooked policemen, reporters and figures from Brodie's past jostle on the stage.

I have read mixed reviews of this book. All praise the writing, which I can only do as well. It is clean and tight and the descriptive passages and train of thought of a man coming to terms with what happened to him during and after the war, and what is happening to him now are striking and vivid. Gordon Ferris bring to life Glasgow, its sights and sounds and smells.

Some reviewers seem to be uncertainty about the reality of IRA gun-runners in the late 1940's, and whether the IRA were active at that time. As the child of a man who trained in Ulster in the early forties and told me that the only time he ever knew he got shot at during the entire war was south of Belfast, I can vouch for their presence. And the IRA link is not overdone in the book - it is a convenient means of sketching in the bad men, who are very bad indeed.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys tough, hard edged thrillers. I am not always a big fan of books set just after the Second World War, but the strength of writing and vivid characterization, not to mention the twists and turns of the plot make this one of my top reads of the last year.

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