Top critical review
Gutted it Wasn't Better
on 13 February 2015
There’s always a risk in taking on a new author, even in a genre that suggests you should enjoy the book. The quotes on the backs of books are usually unanimous in their praise and can’t be relied upon to be an accurate judge of the quality between the covers. But when an author is compared to others you already know are great writers, this does raise the expectation level a little. This is not always a good thing.
Gus Dury is a former journalist, down on his luck and living most of his life at the bottom of a bottle, and the rest at the bottom of a pint glass. He’s running his deceased friend’s pub, but not terribly well and he’s drinking more profit than he’s making. One night, hearing a commotion on a hill and going to investigate, he literally stumbles across a murder victim. Found at the scene with blood on his hands, he immediately becomes a suspect. His motive seems clear, as the victim was also robbed of a large amount of money, which would cure Dury’s debt problems.
The victim was working for one of Edinburgh’s main gang leaders who is understandably upset about the missing money and is keen to ensure he gets it back. The police are also keen to pin the murder on Dury, especially as the lead officer is involved with Dury’s ex-wife and so has personal as well as professional reasons for wanting him out of the way. With the police sure the case is closed, Dury has to cast a bleary and bloodshot investigative eye over proceedings to clear his name.
This is a wonderfully paced book, not letting up for a moment. Black writes in similar short chapters to James Patterson which helps keep the pages turning. That said, even without this, it would still feel like a fast paced story, as Black has a good eye for keeping the action moving along. Even in the slower moments, there is still plenty happening and there is a sense that the next piece of excitement isn’t too far away. This makes it quite a tough story to tear yourself away from.
Despite knowing little about the life Black describes, there is quite an authentic feel to the story. Many of the characters have a false bravado and others have a despairing, beaten down quality to them. The dialogue always feels realistic, no matter who is speaking to who and there are some quite entertaining moments when Dury is swapping insults with the police. There’s one especially lovely moment where, referring to trees, Dury remarks ‘’don’t ask me what kind – I’m from Leith’’, which felt like a wonderful throwaway line adding a touch of humour to what can be quite a dark tale at times.
This isn’t one for the squeamish, as it delves into Edinburgh’s darker recesses and there are several nasty killings. It opens with the discovery of a corpse and gets worse from there, with dog fights as entertainment and potential witnesses being removed from the game permanently. There is one especially gruesome scene where a man has his throat ripped out by a couple of dogs that Black describes in such detail that it has the ability to turn the reader’s stomach as it did Dury’s.
Unfortunately, as well written and as occasionally disturbing as it is, the book did feel a little light and lacking in punch, even allowing for the number of them Dury throws. Perhaps due to the quick pace, much seemed skimmed over and there wasn’t a lot of mystery involved. Everything was presented for the reader and there was little depth. What disappointed me most was the ending, which seemed unlikely and unsatisfying and didn’t seem in keeping with much that had gone before.
This isn’t a bad read, perfect for a time when you don’t want to concentrate too hard on things. But like the alcohol which provides most of Dury’s calorific intake, it may be filling for a while but you find yourself wanting and needing a little bit more. ‘’Gutted’’ is entertaining enough, but despite the occasional nice touch on show, there is better available.
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