Over the last couple of decades, Scottish crime novels have become immensely popular and increasingly in demand. The genre is going strong thanks to pioneering authors such as Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, and now Denzil Meyrick wishes to join that list. This latest novel in a series by Meyrick, The Last Witness is a worthwhile addition to the genre. Meyrick is a former officer in the Strathclyde Police Service and thus has a unique perspective to add to the crime genre.
The story follows events set five years earlier in Glasgow. A Scottish gangster named James Machie is brutally executed; “his head blown apart” as we are told, only to emerge from the grave five years later. Naturally, this event causes confusion and panic, not only within the police force, but also with Machie’s former associates who, having been arrested by detectives Daley and Scott, had turned on their boss in return for immunity from trial. When one of the men who had betrayed Machie is brutally killed along with his wife in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, it appears that someone must be carrying out Machie’s dirty work. Logic suggests that the only person capable of being ruthless and brutal enough is Machie himself.
The Last Witness has an excellent trait that is essential to all crime stories: that is wonderful, affable and realistic protagonists. D.C.I. Jim Daley is introduced to the reader as a middle aged man struggling to climb a hill near Kinloch as part of the new “fitness campaign” which his wife has imposed on him. Meyrick makes Daley instantly humorous and affable, someone whom the reader can imagine as, for example, a Scottish version of Barnaby from Midsomer Murders. Small, humorous details such as “At that exact moment, all of his concentration was focused upon removing a Penguin chocolate biscuit from its packaging” are almost a refreshing break from chapters which deal with the grisly murders in Glasgow and Melbourne. The descriptions of these murders are bleak, bloody and brutal, and immediately imbue the narrative with a sense of dread and misery. The novel also moves at a fast pace, with plot twists and tense moments throughout the storyline, which is an essential feature of a crime novel and makes it easily readable.
The only trouble I have with the novel is that it is fairly predictable and doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of story: essentially, the plot is “some violent criminal is presumed to be dead, but isn’t, and then goes on a murderous rampage in order to exact revenge on those who betrayed him, and the detectives are caught up in the middle”, and that’s been done before. But what the novel lacks for in terms of originality of plot, it makes up for in the very well thought out character creation and development, which is clearly based on Meyrick’s extensive experience of criminals and detectives in his previous occupation.
Overall, The Last Witness is a stimulating read, and anyone considering exploring the Scottish crime novel would find this book a good place to start. I imagine we will be seeing more of Meyrick’s works in the future, not just novels, but perhaps also as television adaptations, given the current popularity of this genre.