Where the Bodies Are Buried is the latest work from Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre, best known for his comic crime novels. His latest book is just as richly Scottish as his earlier work, but it is his grittiest and most realistic novel yet.
When small-time heroin dealer Jai McDiarmid turns up dead one fine Glasgow morning, no one is that surprised - he'd been sleeping with a drug trafficker's girlfriend and had made himself a lot of enemies - so many, in fact, that Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod doesn't know where to start when she is assigned to the case. Meanwhile, out-of-work actress Jasmine Sharp is doing her best to be a private investigator, but her PI mentor Uncle Jim, who was meant to be showing her the ropes, has just disappeared in mysterious circumstances. She begins looking at the open cases that Jim was investigating - which sends her into trouble, fast. And when she soon finds out that Jim's disappearance has something to do with Jai's death, she teams up with Catherine - and together they stumble upon an old open case which throws everything into question. In Glasgow, nothing is quite what it seems.
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The Loneliness and the Scream
It didn't seem like Glasgow.
There was a mugginess in the air despite its being a clear night, not a wisp to obscure the moon and stars. Not like last night, when the clouds had rolled in on top of a sunny day like a lid on a pan, holding in the warmth, keeping hot blood on a simmer. It was warm on the street at nine o'clock that morning, and now, past eleven, it felt as though every molecule of air was drunk and tired. If a clear night wasn't cooling it down, then the next clouds were going to bring thunderstorms.
The inside of the van had been stifling, smells of sweat and aftershave battling it out with piss and blood. When Wullie stepped out on to the gravel and weeds, the horseshoe of the quarry walls like an amphitheatre around him, he had expected to feel the welcome relief of a freshening breeze, but the temperature drop was negligible. Only the smells changed. There was a sweetness in the air, scents from the trees you never smelled in the cold and rain, mixed with the charcoal and cooked meat of a thousand barbecues wafting from the city below, warm smoke, warm smells borne on warm air.
No, it really didn't seem like Glasgow at all. Apart from the guy lying on the deck in the advanced stages of a severe kicking. That was as authentically local as haggis suppers and lung cancer.
Jai didn't struggle as they hauled him out of the van. All the fight had been booted out of him long before that point. He half-lay and half-sat on the ground in a disjointed and blood-soaked heap, like a big pile of washing. He was shaking with shock and fear, making it look incongruously like he was shivering. If anybody could be cold right then, it would be him: cold in his fear, cold in his isolation: the loneliest man in Glasgow. He knew he had nobody, and making it worse, he knew what to be afraid of, because he had been among those dishing it out plenty of times in the past.
Nobody thinks it'll ever come to them, especially once they've found themselves with a bit of clout. Money in their pocket, fancy motor, smart threads, folk fearfully averting their eyes when they walk past, others kissing their arses any chance they get. Dodge a couple of prosecutions because nobody will talk, or somebody down the food chain takes the fall, all of a sudden they think they're invincible, and that's when they get greedy, that's when they get careless. They think they can take on the bigger guys, think that just being young and hungry gives them some kind of edge, forgetting that a lot of folk have been young and hungry at some point; forgetting that the guys at the top are where they are – and have stayed where they are – for a reason.
Jai made no attempt to get up, most likely in case it was interpreted as flight or resistance, but just as possibly because he couldn't. He kept his eyes down, but they were still scanning back and forth, checking the positions of his captors. They stood in a triangle around him, Big Fall just climbing out from the front cab to make it a square.
It was the arrival of a fifth that was going to answer all his questions. If Jai thought he was broken and defeated before, then he was a proper Pollyanna compared to how he'd feel when the self-styled Gallowhaugh Godfather made his entrance.
He was just arriving now, in fact. He'd followed the van at a necessarily careful distance, but now that he'd parked, he was deliberately taking his time, making their captive wait. Making everyone wait. Prick. If conceit was consumption, Wee Sacks there would be dead.
He slammed the door of his big BMW to herald his arrival, alert their prisoner that there was more to this than he had already understood, as much as you can understand anything when you've been ragdolled around the back of a van by three guys battering your melt in. Then he walked across slowly, taking the long way around the side of the van to further protract the anticipation before he would make his presence known to the poor bastard quivering in the dirt.
Wullie detested him, always had. Gallowhaugh Godfather? Gallowhaugh Grandfather more like. All right, the guy was only about forty, but he was always wearing gear that was too young for him, which had the paradoxical effect of making him look older even than his scarred and lived-in face would indicate; a face you would never get sick of kicking.
Wullie resented being here, dancing to the jumped-up old throwback's tune. It was one thing playing along to keep the peace, but that wee cock just loved this all too much. The bastard should watch his step, see he didn't make the same mistake as his ex-pal lying on the deck. Seemed to think he was gangland royalty because he'd been around the game for a while, saw himself as 'old school' and somehow more respectable than the new breed. He shouldn't forget who was the biggest gang in this city. Just because they found it expedient or mutually profitable to help you out didn't mean you could take liberties or start kidding yourself about the nature of that relationship. Wee Sacks thought Big Fall had come to him because he ran Gallowhaugh. Truth was, Wee Sacks ran Gallowhaugh because it suited Fall to allow him to.
That the wee shite had insisted on being here tonight said it all. Small-man behaviour. He should have risen above it, just been content in the knowledge that the problem was being taken care of, discreetly too, ensuring no uncomfortable fallout. Not Wee Sacks, though. He was taking unnecessary risks simply because he had to let Jai here know he'd got the last word, that it had been trying to put one over on the mighty Godfather that had sealed his fate.
He wanted to sing when he was winning.
Jai lifted his head at the sound of this unexpected late arrival. The intended response was etched large upon his bloodied features: a mixture of confusion and despair as he tried to work out how this was possible then calculated the implications for his own chances. He said nothing, incredulity at the revelation of this unholy alliance giving way to a grim resignation as the true nature of things made itself unforgivingly clear. Jai thought he was the one who had been fly, doing secret deals with his boss's enemies, but now he was seeing who was truly fly, and why his boss was the boss.
Jai truly, inescapably, knew the score, and that should have been enough. But not for Wee Sacks. He pulled out a gun, even though that part was meant to be left to Big Fall's crew. He was using it as a prop, milking Jai's fear as he started spelling everything out, starting with a potted history of their relationship so that he could ham up his claims of hurt at Jai's betrayal.
He held the gun to Jai's forehead. Jai closed his eyes, as though he could shut out what was to come. He squeezed them tighter and tighter as the moment endured and the shot didn't come, tears eventually seeping from them as he broke down. Then the wee prick took the gun away again and started talking some more, further elaborating upon his indignation. He was getting too much from this to have done with it quickly, although not in some sadistically frivolous way. There was boiling fury in him, incredulous outrage at Jai's temerity. It was as though this moment was not reparation enough, killing him merely the once insufficient vengeance. He would kill him over and over if he could, and this was as close as he could get to doing that. He was an angry wee dog, barking all the louder in rage against his size.
Fall wasn't having it, though. The big man had heard enough. He took out his own gun and barged the yappy terrier aside.
'Don't kick the arse oot it,' he warned, and shot Jai through the head.
Jai slumped backwards, his head haloed on the ground by a spreading arc of blood as the shot reverberated like a ricochet around the walls of the quarry. It seemed to echo back upon itself, sustained like a feedback loop; then, as the report of the gunshot slowly faded, Wullie became aware that within the reverberation was a second sound: a human scream.
It wasn't a healthy sign that it took his initial surprise to remind him that most normal people still found this kind of thing shocking.
Jasmine Screws Up
'Subject vehicle is taking a right right right on to Byres Road. Foxtrot Five make ground. I'm letting him run straight on at the lights before subject becomes able to draw my face from memory.'
'Yes yes,' she replied, feeling her heart speed up far faster than the little Renault was accelerating.
She had eyeball now.
This time, Jasmine Sharp vowed to herself, I won't screw up. She watched Uncle Jim's car – no, Delta Seven's car – veer left ahead of the junction, heading west along Dumbarton Road, and found herself suddenly closer than she intended behind the blue Citroë n minivan. She had to step on the brakes quite stiffly, her anxious literal response to the 'make ground' command causing her to forget that the subject would be slowing to a stop as he waited to turn right. She hoped he wasn't looking in the rear-view, as nothing grabbed the attention quite like the appearance that you weren't going to stop in time, especially with this guy.
Jasmine watched him indicate, almost hypnotised by the blinking light, focusing on it so that she wasn't tempted to look at his rearview mirror.
It took seven or eight oscillations before she realised that she'd neglected to indicate herself. She corrected her omission, feeling as she always did on this job that she had too many balls in the air, and that her efforts to get the procedure right were in danger of causing her to forget to take care of the basics. It was bad enough when she was the secondary in a two-car surveillance, but when it was she who had eyes-on, she kept expecting at any second to stall the engine, if not smash into a lamp post, pedestrian or double-decker bus she had failed to notice due to her attention being so singularly directed at the subject vehicle.
I won't screw up, she vowed. I won't screw up. Not again. Not like the previous vehicle surveillance, in Paisley last week, when she lost the subject in the cinema car park. Not like Duntocher the week before, when she managed to get burned by following the subject twice around a roundabout. And not like Monday. Sweet Jesus, no, please, not like Monday. She'd be feeling embarrassed about that when she was vegetating in some old folk's home, in her dotage: embarrassed for herself and mortified about how badly she'd let Jim down. She could feel her cheeks burn just thinking about it.
The minivan slowed and it looked like he was about to pull in and park. He was a jammy sod finding a space on that stretch of Byres Road at this time of day, which meant the chances of her finding one an acceptable distance ahead were vanishingly small. She could be looking at setting a new personal best for eyeball time prior to losing a subject, at well under a minute. Not entirely her fault, circumstances outwith her control and all that, but having blown surveillances as often as she had, even genuine excuses rang hollow.
Oh, thank you. Magic. He wasn't parking: it was the car in front of his that had been jammy enough to find a space, and he'd been forced to stop while it reversed laboriously into the gap.
She sighed, trying not to dwell upon how ill-suited she must be for this job if she could get so het up over every minor or even just potential hiccup.
She reached down and pressed the push-to-talk button mounted on the gearstick, the corresponding microphone embedded in the sun visor.
'Uncle Jim ... I mean Delta Seven, permission?'
'Delta Seven, go ahead. You don't need to ask permission when you're eyeball. And for the umpteenth time, it's your own call sign you say, not mine.'
'Sorry. I mean Foxtrot Five, sorry. Just wondering where you are.'
'My location is Hyndland Street, north towards Highburgh Road, where I'll be hoping to make ground and re-obtain the subject vehicle when it reaches the lights.'
'Yes yes,' she said, though it was his reminder that she had once again failed to use appropriate terminology that she heard most loud and clear. How much patience could the man have? He deserved better: much better.
'Subject is approaching the junction with University Avenue,' she relayed. 'Lights are red and he's not indicating. Anticipate subject going straight on straight on straight on in the direction of Great Western Road.'
Straight on straight on straight on. That couldn't be correct, surely?
Her doubt precipitated a gut-tightening recollection of Monday. A disaster on that scale usually prompted a telethon.
It hadn't been a difficult task. It was an 'establish', nothing more: the proverbial barn door from six feet. Monday's subject had been a small businessman who had done a runner while in heavy debt to one particular supplier. Rather than declare bankruptcy and go through insolvency proceedings, he had flown the coop in the knowledge that the supplier was in major financial difficulties arising largely from this unpaid debt. Put simply, if he stayed out of sight long enough, the supplier would go bust and his debt would disappear.
The supplier had made inquiries of his own, but had passed the matter on to professional investigators Galt Linklater, in order to ensure that all evidence obtained was legal, above board and admissible in any court action. Galt Linklater had in turn subcontracted part of the job to Sharp Investigations, as they often did when their caseload exceeded their personnel.
Sharp Investigations was known less formally, to Jasmine at least, as Uncle Jim. He was an ex-cop, who had set up as a private investigator upon his retirement from the force. He'd been offered jobs with a few agencies, Galt Linklater among them, but for 'reasons of professional experience' that he was reluctant to elaborate upon, he preferred to be his own man. Sharp Investigations had thus always been a solo operation, and a successful one at that. How its scope and effectiveness might be improved by employing a nervous and clumsy young woman with no experience and even less natural aptitude was something Jasmine was still waiting to discover.
'Foxtrot Five. Lights through to green no deviation Byres Road,' she said. That was it. Why did these things come out right when she wasn't thinking about them?
'Delta Seven,' Jim replied. 'I am approaching the junction of Byres Road and Highburgh Road. Lights are red. I will be baulked.'
The fugitive businessman from Monday's ghastliness had been named Pete Harper. He was from Kilwinning but had disappeared from his home six weeks before, and according to his landlord he had cancelled the direct debit that paid his rent. The supplier had provided a list of possible addresses where he might be lying low. Galt Linklater needed an establish: proof that he was living at a certain address, best obtained by doorstepping the guy with a hidden video camera recording the happy event.
This kind of job, Jim had explained to Jasmine, was precisely why he needed her on the firm.
'Guy like this is going to be skittish at the best of times,' he said. 'So he'll be hyper-suspicious of anybody asking questions while he's doing his invisible. He'll smell polis coming off me from a hundred yards out. Sees me through his window or the peephole in his front door and he's not even going to answer the bell. That's why Galt Linklater farmed it out: all their guys have ex-polis stamped on their foreheads. Fresh-faced young woman, on the other hand, different story.'
The logic was inarguably solid, but despite that, it just sounded to Jasmine all the more like he was taking pains to avoid admitting the real reason he'd taken her on.
'Delta ... I mean Foxtrot Five. Subject is indicating right right right on to Great George Street but is blocked by oncoming traffic.'
Shit. She should have said 'offside indication, held due to oncoming traffic'. She was supposed to be practised at learning lines, for God's sake.
Strictly speaking, there was no need to keep confirming call signs on a two-man follow, but Jim had insisted upon it to get her into the habit. At this rate, she'd have it down by around this time next year.
'Delta Seven, yes yes. Making ground. I can take eyeball when he turns.'
Looking conspicuously unlike a cop or an excop, and bearing no resemblance whatsoever to a private investigator (particularly in the way she practised her new-found profession of private investigation), it had been Jasmine's job on Monday to hit the front doors.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Where the Bodies Are Buried"
Copyright © 2011 Christopher Brookmyre.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There's something about the far northern latitudes -- the weather, perhaps? -- that seems to bring out the noir in the writers who live there. So it goes with Tartan Noir. My main exposure to crime north of the Tweed has been via Ian Rankin, so belatedly taking up Brookmyre's 2011 Where the Bodies Are Buried was a happy accident. Happy, indeed. Two parallel investigations make up the body of the novel: a police enquiry into the brutal murder of a two-bit Glasgow pusher, and the private hunt for a missing P.I. The former is led by DS Catherine McLeod, a middle-aged detective who's hit the glass ceiling inside the Glasgow police and is buffeted by the political wrangling inside the department and the personal politics within her family. The second case features twenty-something Jasmine Sharp, a young woman almost dysfunctional enough to feature in a Swedish crime novel, who had been attempting without signal success to learn her uncle's detective trade when he suddenly disappeared. That the two cases tangle and lead to unexpected places is not, itself, unexpected. Brookmyre's voice takes on the personalities of the point-of-view characters, flowing smoothly from type to type as he shifts from McLeod to Sharp to various hardcases. He seems to have absorbed the bleak, bitter worldview of the police, the braggadocio of the hoods, and Jasmine's utter disarray. He can be tart, smartarsed and darkly funny, or confused, vulnerable and desolate, depending on who owns the stage. While the former seems to be his natural voice, he manages to pull off Jasmine's inner life without sounding like a bloke trying to impersonate a hen. McLeod is persuasively settled in midlife, suffering both the physical and mental distresses that come when you have more time behind you than in front of you. Her interactions with her younger husband and her two young sons feel authentically fraught with the everyday tensions and frustrations of life. At work, she deals with political weasels, the various slights that come from being a woman in a man's clubhouse, and of course the new- and old-school villains who fill her to-do list. Her dealings with and reactions to them also feel organic and well-observed. I've known American versions of McLeod and could easily recognize her. Jasmine starts as a hot mess, a former-almost-actress who is useless at the detective arts, chronically mourning her now-departed mother, barely able to scrape up the two coins to rub together. Everything perplexes or threatens her. Yet she learns, she grows, and she finds herself in work she never expected to do, far less succeed in. Her small successes and flashes of insight steadily build her into the woman she becomes by the end. The dialog is sharp, fitted to the characters, and reasonably realistic for the setting. Brookmyre is a Scot and his characters are Scots. Theirs is not Oxbridge English. Both the dialog and the narrative go far past the occasional "wee" and "aye" Rankin would salt in for Caledonian atmosphere. Just go with it; you can nearly always figure out the meaning through the context or by sounding out the dialect. I'd give this four and a half stars if we could give half-stars; sadly, we can't. The demerits are for a too-tidy ending to the tangled mess that preceded it and an underdeveloped central male character who feels more a type than a person. Still, it's a fine tale told well. If you like your skies gray and your morals grayer, give Bodies a try.