The Good Son (J. McNee Series #1)by Russel D. McLean
"THE GOOD SON is the most exciting, and gripping, Scottish crime fiction debut of recent years. Stylish and atmospheric, it marks the arrival of a exceptional talent." --John Connolly
"McLean has all the merits of this brilliant writer [Jean-Patrick Manchette] with the added bonus of a Scottish sense of wit that is like no other." --Ken/b>
"THE GOOD SON is the most exciting, and gripping, Scottish crime fiction debut of recent years. Stylish and atmospheric, it marks the arrival of a exceptional talent." --John Connolly
"McLean has all the merits of this brilliant writer [Jean-Patrick Manchette] with the added bonus of a Scottish sense of wit that is like no other." --Ken Bruen
"Scottish crime fiction is entering a new era and Russel McLean is at the vanguard. A thrilling new writer, a brilliant debut...The Good Son is very good indeed." --Tony Black
Recipient of widespread praise for his award-winning crime short stories, Russel McLean's full-length debut has been characterized by key crime authors and critics alike as the emergence of a major talent.
There is something rotten behind the apparent sucide of Daniel Robertson and it's about to come bursting into the life of J. McNee, a Scottish private investigator with a near-crushing level of personal baggage. James Robertson, a local farmer, finds his estranged brother's corpse hanging from a tree. The police claim suicide. But McNee is about to uncover the disturbing truth behind the death. With a pair of vicious London thugs on the move in the Scottish countryside, it's only a matter of time before people start dying. As the body count rises, McNee finds himself on a collision course with his own demons and an increasing array of brutal killers in a violent, bloody showdown that threatens to leave none involved alive. Plumbing the depths of love, loss, betrayal, and one broken man's attempt to come to terms with his past, The Good Son successfully blends the classic style of the gumshoe era with the outer edges of modern noir.
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The Good Son
By Russel D. McLean
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Russel D. McLean
All rights reserved.
Nearly a week before the night I found myself ready to kill a man in cold blood, I was angling for the security of a job that paid up front.
Which is why I was grateful for the business of any client. Especially the man who huffed his way into the offices of McNee Investigations.
James Robertson stuffed himself into the sixties-style recliner I'd picked up a few weeks earlier at the Salvation Army store on West Marketgait. He was sweating, even though it was a cool day. As if he'd swum across the Tay rather than taking the bridge. The handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket of his suit jacket looked damp.
I offered my hand. His was slick and threatened to slip from my grasp.
It wasn't his size, even if he was a large man. No, the sweat came from agitation. Robertson was tense, his muscles practically humming they were stretched so taut.
After I introduced myself, he bobbed his head up and down as though agreeing with me. "It's a climb up those stairs, Mr McNee," he said, a strong Fife accent making him sound accusatory. His little eyes regarded me suspiciously. "For a man like myself, of course." His features crumpled in thought. "McNee," chewing the name over. He smiled. "Like the actor!" I shrugged the observation off, having heard it a hundred times before. "You're younger than I would have thought."
Did he mean this merely as an observation or as something more subtly insulting? I let it go, and showed him into my private office. He followed, even though he seemed reluctant to leave the recliner.
Robertson looked around the private room, nodded approvingly at the minimalist decoration.
"Are you okay?" he asked. Hadn't taken him long to notice.
I shook my head.
"Bad looking limp."
Not so bad. Not now. Could have been worse.
I could have lost my life.
"Doesn't interfere with the job, Mr Robertson, if that's what you're worried about."
He shook his head like the thought had never crossed his mind.
I gestured for him to sit down. He took one of the padded chairs in front of my desk. I stayed standing, asked him why he was here.
"The other fellow," he said. "The one who used to work here. He had a reputation, you know?"
I nodded. "Sure. You knew him?"
"Not personally. He did work for some ... people I know."
I didn't ask what kind of work or what kind of people. That would have been unprofessional.
The other investigator had been in business at least a decade, using these same offices. The centre of Dundee. Prime location. Down the road from the Sheriff's Court, too. It wasn't just the location, of course, that had helped build him a local reputation.
I met him before I took over the property, thought he looked old before his time. He said, that's what the business does to you. The implication was clear: I wouldn't keep my fresh-faced looks for too long.
Then again, maybe I'd keep them longer than he expected.
"I can give you references," I said. "I used to be a copper."
"Aye?" Robertson took out his handkerchief, wiped his forehead. "Surely that's a wee bit more respectable than all this?" He gestured expansively and then let out a sigh.
I wondered, did he mean the office or the lifestyle?
Probably the lifestyle. In the UK, the life of an investigator is hardly seen as glamorous. We don't have the same lone-wolf mythology as our counterparts in the US. If people think of us, it's as sleazy, cheap last-resorts. And in Scotland, we're barely even thought of at all.
I waited, watching my client: how he moved, the set of his face, the way his eyes darted about the office. Afraid to settle anywhere, especially on me.
"What can I do for you?" I asked.
"You can tell me about my brother."
I pulled out a tape recorder, placed it on the table. Robertson looked at the device, and then nodded his consent. I wasn't writing anything down. This was a friendly wee chat. Recorded for posterity.
Funny how people open up to a recorder and yet clam up when they see you scribbling.
"Your brother?" I prompted.
"Do you read the papers?"
"I keep up."
"The Tele?" he asked, meaning The Evening Telegraph: local paper for local people.
"Then you know my name," he said. "Or you should. Nosy bastards slapped it all over the front page couple of nights ago."
I nodded, then; realised who he was.
"James Robertson," I said, like I'd just heard his name for the first time. "I'm sorry for your loss."CHAPTER 2
Like I said, people open up to a recorder. All I had to do to get Robertson's story was prod him once or twice in the right direction. Keep him focused.
The Robertson family farm, he told me, sat out across the bridge near St Michaels; a small hamlet on the outer edges of Tentsmuir Forest. Robertson — out of habit more than anything else — took a quick pint at the local pub most nights.
Two weeks earlier, Robertson had run into the pub. Ready to collapse from a coronary. Not just through exertion, either.
The barman gave Robertson a drink, calmed him down enough for the man to explain what had happened. He described how he'd found a body out in the woods and how the poor bastard swinging from the branch of a long dead tree was his brother, who he hadn't seen for over thirty years.
The police responded within twenty minutes. Two bobbies out of Cupar — the nearest town with a sizeable station — walked into the pub, their swagger of authority tempered by an air of apprehension. They talked to Robertson briefly and he led them to the body.
As one of the policemen moved to investigate the swinging corpse, the other tried to keep Robertson from passing out. The farmer was on his knees, the harsh rasp of his breathing mutating into a deep hyperventilation. The copper tried to persuade the farmer to breathe easier and make him feel like he had a friend. Robertson wasn't alone.
Except he was.
* * *
"Maybe it's in the genes, aye?"
"What's in the genes?"
Robertson looked at me like I was stupid. "Suicide," he said. "Depression. All that nonsense."
"You've had suicidal tendencies?"
"No, not me!" Agitated, his eyes bugging. "My — our — father."
"Your father killed himself?"
"Rest his soul."
His brow rumpled. "I couldn't tell you for sure."
There was nothing else to say except, "I'm sorry."
"Spare me," he said. "Christ, please, anything but that."
"What I don't understand is why you require the services of an investigator."
"I told you, me and Daniel didn't talk. Not properly. The occasional letter, but even then ... Our father had a heart attack a few years back."
"But I thought —"
"He survived. Pulled through. Stubborn man, Dad. At least he was ... after the attack, it just took everything out of him ... Makes you wish the heart attack had been fatal." Robertson looked on the verge. Ready to jump. The tears waiting to flow.
But it didn't happen.
Real men — Scots men — don't cry.
I waited as Robertson composed himself.
Finally: "I always thought that would be how he'd go. A heart attack, I mean. Better than suicide, right? I wrote to Daniel and told him. To let him know. That the old man was all right. Got back a one-line letter."
"What did it say?"
He hesitated. Then, whispering the words as though afraid of reprisal: "It said, 'No worse than the old cunt deserves.'"
"How old was your brother when he left?"
"Sixteen. An argument with Dad."
"Where'd he go?"
"Down to England. London."
"I still don't see what ..."
"Mr McNee, I don't know what happened to my brother down there. I don't even know what he did for a living. I know nothing about him, the man he became. All I know is that he had a forwarding address. A place I could reach him. That, and two months after our dad dies, I find Danny's corpse swinging from a tree."
I could have forgiven him the tears earlier.
"You want closure."
"The police don't seem to ..."
I understood that.
"They're happy to know how. But they don't care why."
"Aye," said Robertson. "Aye, that's the problem."
I sat back in the chair, kept my eyes locked on him. He continued looking down at his belly.
"What I find could be even more upsetting than ..."
"Peace of mind," he said. "That's what's important here." There was finality in the statement. An answer to every objection I could raise.
I laid out my fee structure. He listened, nodded, said, "Of course, Mr McNee," pulled out a cheque-book from his inside pocket.
* * *
I looked out the office window onto Ward Road. The DSS office across the way was a foreboding block of dark concrete that edged onto North Lindsay Street. Robertson walked past the building and down towards the car park at the rear of the new Overgate Shopping Centre, part of Dundee's recent rejuvenation. Sandstone from the rear, glass and steel from the front. The gently curving structure hooked round the City Churches and St Mary's Steeple like the protective arm of a mother round the shoulders of a child.
The Centre was a far cry from the decrepit block of 1960's concrete that had preceded it. The mall was just one sign of a city looking to forget its industrial roots and move forward; part of the new, modern Scotland. Forget the tat that feeds the tourist trade: we're out on the cutting edge.
Jam, Jute and Journalism — the heritage of the city every child is taught in school — was history. The Overgate and Riverside Developments were in line with Scotland's new cosmopolitanism. Embracing the modern world. They'd called Dundee the City of Discovery. Not just a reference to Captain Scott's ship, permanently anchored down by the Riverside. Scientific and medical research had been pumping cash into Dundee since the late nineties. Computer programmers had found their Mecca — Grand Theft Auto was created here. An unexpected financial boon for the city so many Scots had been ready to write off.
Bill, whose official title is administrative assistant, smiled as I walked into reception. "That looked like a man with problems."
Bill smoothed his hair down with an unnecessary gesture. He took great stock in his appearance, each item of clothing chosen carefully. Never a crease. His hair was held in place by so many products you could have set him alight by flicking a lighter under his nose. But his voice was what defied expectations. It was down in his boots; a gravelly native rumble that could stop a bar brawl.
I took his copy of the previous evening's Tele off the desk, checked the by-line on the lead story.
Daniel Robertson's suicide still dominated the local news, but the tone of the article made it clear that the police had come to the end of their inquiries. It had become a non-story. To everyone except the dead man's brother.
* * *
Much of an investigator's work these days is sedentary. Technology has made it a static job. The bread-and-butter work doesn't involve much action. You sit at a desk, you check files. You wait for hours in the driver's seat of a car for just the right moment, your camera ready to capture the evidence.
Sometimes you get out. Photograph accident sites for insurance claims. Talk to people. Try and get information. But much of that can be done over the phone just as easily as in person.
I started locally.
Called the Fife constabulary media inquiries office.
"How can I help?"
I glanced at the Tele, used the name of the reporter whose name appeared on the Robertson story. "My name's Cameron Connelly. I'm calling regarding the suicide of Daniel Robertson." For a moment, I worried the woman on the other end might know Connelly, realise I was pulling a fast one. Relying on the fact they were across the other side of the river. Fife Constabulary wouldn't deal so much with Dundonian journalists. I was taking a gamble.
Either I was right, or the girl on the other end was new, hadn't played the getting to know you game with the local hacks. "Haven't you got anything better to write about?"
I almost sighed with relief.
Instead, I said, "Slow news week."
"I heard a rumour today ..."
"You should know better ..."
"There's more to this man's death than the police are telling us." There always is. The police and the media play an odd game of cat and mouse as reporters fight for more information and the coppers try to hold it back.
The woman on the other end of the line paused. Just a little too long. Then: "It was a suicide. The coroner confirmed it. I don't know what else you want, Mr Connelly."
"No evidence of foul play?"
She laughed. "Really scraping the barrel over there, aren't you?"
"Guess so," I said. And hung up.
Confirmation of suicide. But they were holding something back. Didn't want to give it to the press. Check the hesitations and the avoidance strategies.
I didn't have much. But I had a name. And an address.
Could have been worse.
Daniel Robertson's mail was forwarded to a nightclub in the heart of Soho. His brother had been writing to the address for years. A quick search gave me the club's website. Glitzy, expensive, with an overly busy design. It took me a while to find the information I needed.
A name leaped out.
The club's owner.
Even north of the border, I'd heard of him. A new wave London gangster, born too late to have power when the Krays ruled the underworld, but old enough to have amassed a reputation and even make a late grab at respectability.
His book — he called it Hard Boiled, the best kind of double pun — had hit the shelves two years earlier. It played on his violent past, appealing to a market that didn't want to read, but idolised men like Egg.
The website didn't disguise the facts. Instead it played them up. Made a big deal about the business being run by an "ex" East End gangster. A wide boy made good.
I thought: men like that don't go straight.
If Daniel was involved with Egg, maybe his brother wouldn't want to know the truth.
I'd already said I wasn't going to lie. And Robertson had claimed he was ready to accept whatever I told him.
I grabbed the phone, rang the club. It was still early, but there was every chance someone would be around, getting the place ready for the evening. A caretaker, at least, who might know something.
A rough East End voice answered the phone.
"I'm looking for Daniel Robertson," I said.
"He don't work here no more."
"It's important. I'm calling on behalf of his family."
"Gotcha," said the voice. "Thought you sounded fuckin' Scotch, mate. But all the same, he ain't workin' here no more. Got his arse fired, didn't he?"
"When did that happen?"
The guy on the other end hesitated before saying "Three weeks ago."
"No wonder we can't get hold of him."
"He said he wasn't that close to his family."
"What did he do? I mean, that he got fired?"
"Confidential information, that is, mate. Don't know you from Adam. Could be anyone callin' us, asking for info on someone's done something you don't like."
"Aye, of course." Keeping my voice breezy. "If you hear from him, tell him his brother wants a word."
"Sure thing." He hung up.
I kept the receiver near my ear for a few moments. Listening to the dial tone. Daniel had been fired from the club three weeks earlier. Whatever happened, his departure hadn't been under the best of circumstances. A bite to the Cockney's voice told me his opinion of Daniel Robertson. More than just antagonism towards the Scots.
I placed the receiver back in the cradle, stood up and hit the kettle that sat on top of a four-drawer filing cabinet.
Thought about Daniel Robertson. Tried to find a point of connection.
Who had he become?
If the company he kept was any indication, he hadn't found the streets of London paved with gold.
There was a guy I used to know on the force who'd transferred down south to the Met. We said we'd keep in touch, but that was never one of my strong points. We hadn't talked in three years.
Last I knew he'd been working with the drugs squad. I called around, asked questions, waited on extensions until finally I reached the man himself.
His voice had become corrupted by an encroaching English twang. The mixed accent sounded artificial and unpleasant. He used my first name.
"Dave," I said. "How are you?"
"Jesus, mate, haven't heard from you in donkeys ..."
"Tell me about it."
Excerpted from The Good Son by Russel D. McLean. Copyright © 2008 Russel D. McLean. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
RUSSEL MCLEAN writes for Crime Spree Magazine, The Big Thrill, At Central Booking and Crime Scene Scotland. His short fiction has been published in crime magazines in both US and the UK.
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"I've already shot a man this evening, so what's the difference now? Like smoking, it gets easier after the first one, right?" - J. McNee Dundee, Scotland based J. McNee (full first name never given) is not at a good place in his life when we meet him in author Russel D. McLean's debut novel, The Good Son. Formerly on the Dundee police force, McNee was forced into early retirement following a car crash that killed his fiancée and left him physically disabled and psychologically crippled. Now working as a private investigator, McNee receives a visit from local farmer James Robertson whose estranged brother, Daniel, was found hanging from a tree on the family's farm. Though the police have it down as suicide, James is convinced his brother did not kill himself and hires McNee to investigate what Daniel had been up to during the 30 years since James last saw him. In addition to putting him at odds with his former colleagues on the police force, McNee's investigation opens up a Pandora's box of local thugs, London gangsters and a mysterious woman with connections to both, as a visit to London reveals that Daniel had been working for one of that city's most notorious gangsters, Gordon Egg. Not pleased with either Daniel's unexplained disappearance from London, with a substantial sum of Egg's money, or McNee's visit inquiring about him, Egg sends two of his thugs to Dundee to get to the bottom of things. And that's when things go seriously sideways, as Egg's thugs, Ayer and Liman, cut a bloody path through Dundee in their efforts to retrieve the missing money. Convinced that James Robertson knows where the money is, and that he told McNee, Ayer and Liman pay a visit to McNee's office that results in him being beaten and his office assistant shot. Already burdened with almost incapacitating guilt over his fiancée's death, the shooting of his friend pushes McNee over the edge, to the point he's determined to stop Ayer and Liman no matter the cost. and McNee is willing to pay quite a high price. In McNee, author McLean has done a spectacular job of portraying a man in the seemingly contradictory position of being incapacitated by apathy for his own life, yet driven by guilt over the loss of his fiancée's. The blunt, edgy dialogue and outbursts of pull no punches violence in The Good Son bring to mind the hard-boiled writing of the legendary Ken Bruen, and I believe it's a well-deserved comparison. But make no mistake about it, McLean has demonstrated with his debut offering that he has a fresh, unique voice all his own. The Good Son is very, very good indeed.
Farmer James Robertson finds his brother Daniel hanging from a tree. Although the siblings were estranged for decades when Daniel left home at sixteen after an argument with their father, James rejects the official opinion that Daniel committed suicide. Instead he hires former Dundee police officer J. McNee, who is still recovering from a car accident that severely injured him and killed his fiancée. McNee quickly uncovers that the deceased worked as a thug for former gangster Gordon Egg, who owns a London nightclub. Meanwhile Kat from London arrives insisting she was close to Daniel while two more bad eggs follow her. McNee fears he is in over his head as a hardboiled detective battling crime kings because his throbbing leg keeps telling him. Taking the injured hardboiled urban American detective to Dundee makes for an engaging refreshing tale though the lead character never quite feels like he is from Scotland rather than the United States. Still his inquiry, aching leg and all, makes for a fun tale as the cops tell him to stay out, the thugs warn him to stay out, and his common sense pleads with him to stay out; three strokes and he stays in. Fans will enjoy McNee as an avenger trying to survive the case of the dead farmer's brother. Harriet Klausner