Edge of the Grave (Jimmy Dreghorn Series)

Written by Robert Morrison
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Glasgow 1932: Inspector James Dreghorn and his partner “Bonnie” Archie McDaid investigate two murders, one of a child beaten to death by his father, the other of a solicitor thrown into the Clyde with his throat cut. Are they connected? The book blurb describes this thriller as a “Scottish Peaky Blinders,” but its roots lie more in Kingsley Long and McArthur’s No Mean City from 1935, with echoes too of the memoirs of Ralph Glasser, for it is indelibly a portrait of Glasgow with all its sectarian fault-lines. It is gritty: a pub has “walls the colour of stale urine, painted with nicotine from smokers’ lungs”, and a children’s home is a front for abuse and corruption by the outwardly most respectable figures. By contrast, some of the henchmen of the city’s merciless razor gangs are capable of some honour.

The story is told partly in flashback, to Dreghorn’s adolescent dreams of success as a boxer and to the carnage of the trenches. The clues to the identity of the serial killer Dreghorn realises he is hunting, lie in both settings. The historical context is impeccable, with Morrison’s fictional creations interwoven with historical figures like Percy Sillitoe, Chief Constable of Glasgow, and events like the Quintinshill rail disaster. The author gets the smallest details absolutely right, from going to see Johnny Weissmüller in Tarzan at the pictures, to Dreghorn’s landlady serving him Penguins and Jaffa cakes with his tea (both then recently developed Scottish products, the former made in Glasgow). This deftly plotted novel is a more than worthy successor to William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw novels: the title is a homage to them. I am very glad that this book is the first in a projected series.