Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Review: LENNOX by Craig Russell
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Perthshire-based Craig Russell built his crime-writing name with a series of award-winning contemporary serial killer tales, threaded with historic and mythological motifs, featuring Hamburg detective Jan Fabel. Such is his mastery of the foreign setting that early on some European media reputedly believed Russell might have been a German author writing under a fake British persona.
Now, after four bestselling books (and a fifth on the way) all set in Germany, and scooping a CWA Dagger in the Library for the series, Russell (a former policeman himself) brings his storytelling skills to bear on a new location, a new main character, and even a new era. In some ways, you could say he returns 'home' with LENNOX, the first of a planned series of neo-noir novels.
After surviving an awful war which stained his soul, Canadian ex-soldier Lennox now operates as a private eye and fixer in a battlefield equally as brutal: the violent, corrupt and crime-ridden streets of 1950s Glasgow. A place where ruthlessness can be a requirement for survival; a grimy city where there is little difference between cops and criminals, and where Lennox finds himself dangerously entangled with both. Hired by one of the city's biggest and most unforgiving crime lords to find out who slaughtered gangster-on-the-rise Tam McGahern and his twin brother, Lennox's life gets even more complicated when it becomes clear he's being shadowed by even more dangerous men.
In LENNOX, Russell pleasantly evokes some of the Chandler/Hammett-esque conventions of the classic hard-bitten private eye novel, while at the same time imbuing the story with many era-appropriate and notably Scottish touches. Tautly plotted, LENNOX is full of wisecracking narration, Neanderthal henchmen, and cynical femme fatales - but Russell rises far beyond copycatting or cliche with his unique storytelling, dark humour, intelligent and complex protagonist, as well as his ability to weave a wonderful sense of Glaswegian atmosphere. The fairly recent war is like a shadowy character in itself, its destructive tendrils and the wounds it left behind still affecting not only the plot, but also the behaviour and psyche of many of the characters.
Lennox himself is an enjoyable character to follow; completely different to Fabel, Russell's other star protagonist, but equally intriguing - with a distinct and interesting narrative voice. Troubled by concerns his post-war self no longer 'fits in', or worse that he fits in too well in a world he doesn't care for, Lennox seems destined to be the backbone of a stellar series, moving ahead.
Gripping, memorable, and highly recommended; I look forward to the second instalment.