Saturday, November 25, 2017


HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE by Jay Stringer (Thomas & Mercer, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Fergus Fletcher is a hit man. For five thousand pounds, he’ll kill anyone you want. For seven, he’ll frame someone else. Pretending to kill someone is a first, but Alex Pennan has stolen from the mob and needs to fake his own death.

Fergus is looking for love. So is Sam Ireland, a private investigator and part-time bike messenger. But she’s got her hands on a very important package and is in a world of trouble with the mob. Joe Pepper, pillar of society and corrupt gangland fixer, will stop at nothing—nothing at all—to intercept the package and protect his reputation.

Can Alex stay dead while his widow dances on his grave? Can Joe save himself before his stomach ulcer explodes? Can Fergus and Sam make it to a second date before Joe hires him to kill her? Welcome to Glasgow. It’s a love story. 

Put simply, this is one of my very favourite reads of 2017, of any kind. Stringer was a new-to-me author, though I'd seen his name popping up on various Noir at the Bar and festival events in the UK. So I went into this with an unvarnished mind, with no idea what I might find. The answer was something quite wonderful: kinetic prose, fascinating characters, a tale barmy and brilliant.

How To Kill Friends and Implicate People is a ripsnorter of a read. Taking a step back, it has a slightly implausible hook, yet it just works terrifically thanks to Stringer's storytelling. There's no worries about suspending disbelief, as the reader is sucked into the characters' Glasgow world.

Sam Ireland, bike courier and part-time investigator, returns from Stringer's earlier novel Ways to Die in Glasgow. Her life gets complicated thanks to an unusual package pick-up, a couple of new private eye gigs, and her online dating dalliances with an enigmatic guy named Fergus. Unbeknownst to Sam, Fergus is a professional killer who's own work is entangled with some of what Sam is hired to investigate. Forget six degrees of separation in Glasgow, Sam and Fergus have dangerous crossover.

Meanwhile Fergus is fascinated by Sam, while at the same time juggling the fallout and planning of a couple of different gigs himself; one with the unusual twist of being a non-killing. A man wants to hire Fergus to 'kill him', but not kill him, so he can escape the clutches of criminals he's ripped off.

This is not your usual murder mystery, private eye, or police procedural-style crime novel, but it's a brilliant crime tale. Imagine a Tarantino movie (or perhaps Coen Brothers or Guy Ritchie) in book form. A richly evoked world, memorable characters that leap off the page, and lots of interconnections and entanglements in plotlines and character relationships. It's a heck of a fun read.

It's a little tricky to review this book without providing spoilers, so I'll just say that if you're in the mood for something a little different in your crime reading, something that has a real energy crackling through its writing, vibrant and fascinating characters, and plenty of action, then give this a go.

Highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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