Falling Fast is a genuinely engaging and compelling debut novel from Neil Broadfoot, mingling violent crime and investigative journalism in a tightly controlled plot which exudes the best features of Tartan Noir. Its plot follows Doug McGregor, the Capital Tribune‘s lead crime reporter, an intelligent if somewhat cynical writer for whom the bottom of a pint glass is a “research technique” of choice. While chasing a lead on an ongoing story involving the infamous rapist, Derek McGinty, over ten years on from his release, McGregor’s initial disinterest in an apparent suicide case is dispelled upon learning from DS Susie Drummond that the victim is none other than the daughter of Tory MSP, Richard Buchan. McGregor and Drummond trade mutually beneficial favours in breaking a story that seems the stuff of sensationalist tabloid wet dreams. McGregor is later tipped off by an anonymous caller that the apparent suicide of Katherine Buchan is in fact a murder, committed by McGinty. Unlikely or unsubstantiated, both McGregor and Drummond dismiss the claim. That is, until McGregor receives the caller’s “little reminder” a few days later, a development which brings McGregor’s two stories crashing together in a mix of intertwined histories and old secrets.
Falling Fast is a novel that is fascinated by the psychology of the professional insomniac, and charted by the inherently obsessive nature of both crime detecting and reporting. The parallel yet interacting investigations of McGregor and Drummond provide the novel with much of its narrative direction, with Broadfoot presenting a relationship of ill-defined boundaries with wonderful nuance. During McGregor’s first encounter with Drummond, he notes her forensic gaze as a physical marker of her occupation, “Doug had seen the look and the subtle, almost bird-like motions of the head a million times before. To him it said “police” louder than a uniform or warrant card”.
While entertaining, the plot itself is hardly groundbreaking, with the notion of multiple cases amalgamating into one sprawling story, evident in slew of crime writing from Agatha Christie novels to the “Nordic Noir” titles. Broadfoot’s novel excels however in terms of its subversion of social conventions, particularly in representing McGinty as abhorrent but not (perhaps) intrinsically evil. McGinty is, in many ways, Broadfoot’s boldest choice of character in the novel, as the reader is given access to the mind of a man who mere pages before is revealed to be the perpetrator of a sadistic and horrifically extended assault on a young girl. Broadfoot tackles the psychological effect of the crime on McGinty, enabling readers to understand that if McGinty is monstrous, he is also a very human kind of monster. In the form of McGinty’s gruff father, Sam, Broadfoot explores the wider repercussions of the rape, depicting a man hounded by press packs, a father whose disgust at his son’s actions never quite severs a deeper emotional connection or parental instincts.
Elsewhere, Hal Damon, a gay freelance PR agent who is called in to deal with the political fallout of Buchan’s family tragedy by the London-based Conservative hierarchy, provides Broadfoot with some of his most overt (and amusing) moments of political satire. Buchan represents everything associated with the old school Toryism; indeed, the press have nicknamed him “Far Right Marmite”. The Conservative Party send Damon, to foster a suitable amount of public sympathy around Buchan. This kind of futile political posturing by the Cameron-era Tories, is captured by the gleefully sardonic tone that Broadfoot employs to great effect, marrying social conscience to an acidic estimation of the political establishment.
Falling Fast is gritty and violent, twisting and compelling, and fulfils all the other tired descriptions that get wheeled out for book sleeve sound bites. Most importantly, it does what it should – it is viciously honest about how crime works and why violence can become a way of life.