In the 1930s, the police force of Glasgow – a city still not recovered from the Great War, swarming with razor gangs, and riven by sectarian division – needs strong leadership. Chief Constable Percy Sillitoe, an Englishman who famously modernised the force and attacked corruption at every level, is only one of the many historical characters that feature in Robbie Morrison’s debut novel.
When Charles Geddes, son-in-law of Sir Iain Colquhoun – one of Glasgow’s wealthiest shipbuilders – is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut from ear to ear, his beautiful widow Isla asks for Inspector James Dreghorn to lead the investigation.
Bullied as a wee boy, Dreghorn was spotted by Sir Iain who ran a boxing school for ‘the Black Squad’, and got to know Isla very well. Now, with his hulking, pipe-playing subordinate ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid, Dreghorn enters into an uneasy contract with his gangleader nemesis Billy Fulton. The investigation takes him from a charitable ‘village’ for orphaned and unwanted children to the murkier parts of Glasgow’s underworld to find out who wanted Charles Geddes dead and why. More will die before he finds out.
Historical characters people the plot of this richly-coloured novel – among them the ex-footballer pathologist Willie Kivlichan, and Benny Parsonage of the Glasgow Humane Society who retrieved hundreds of the living and the dead from the Clyde. Robbie Morrison also weaves in such events as the Quintinshill rail disaster, the worst ever in Britain, and paints a vivid portrait of early 20th-century Glasgow in all its raucous lawlessness.