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The Original of McNee,
This review is from: The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) (Kindle Edition)
I've got this theory on how you find good crime writers, purely non-scientific, but pretty reliable so far. Check out the author photo and if they look like a right piece of work, you buy the book. Nine times out of ten you'll get something decent. The other one you get Russel D McLean.
The Death of Ronnie Sweets is a collection of McLean's early short works featuring Dundee P.I. Sam Bryson - yes Dundee has P.I.s, alright, who do you think tracks down the city's unfaithful spouses and insurance frauds? Or, in the case of a more committed character like Bryson, skipped witnesses, nonce councillors and a solicitor with some rather destructive daddy issues.
Across ten short stories McLean builds a credible world around Bryson, the city is present without becoming overbearing and the cast of secondary characters is skilfully deployed, with many recurring right through; there's even a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by the protagonist of McLean's novels, J McNee.
Bryson is an engaging character, less intense than some literary P.I.'s but he feels refreshing for that precise reason. So he's handy with his fists and he likes a drink - glass houses people - he's also sentimental, loyal and maybe a bit too understanding for his own good.
I was expecting a lot of blood and ruptures in this book, and I wasn't disappointed, but there's an emotional element here which is missing from a lot of gritty crime fiction. Mclean has a keen eye for human frailty and every story has a deep undertow.
This collection is uniformly strong, although you do get a sense of progression in McLean's writing as it continues, finishing with Flesh and Blood, a heavily freighted story about the responsibilities and abuses of fatherhood. Served up with plenty of violence and a surprisingly sweet ending. Her Cheating Heart is another standout, a short but atmospheric story about a man who desperately needs to be told that his wife is being unfaithful. It's a two-hander, tough to write but beautifully executed.
The Death of Ronnie Sweets feels very complete for a collection of short stories and promises great things for McLean's full length novels The Good Son and The Lost Sister.