"The Inglorious Dead" by Tony Black is the author's second outing for ex-policeman Doug Michie. We first met Doug in "The Storm Without" , published in 2012, and all those readers who enjoyed getting to know him then will be keen to see how life has been treating him in the meantime. "Not well" would be a two word summary. We are used to fictional Scottish detectives with dysfunctional private lives and inner demons, and it would be fair to say that Doug Michie's world has not improved at all since we last met him. His mother has died, and he finds himself trapped living in her house, unable to sell because of depressed property prices.
And Ayr, where the novel is largely set, has not come up in the world since we last saw it through Tony Black's eyes. We noted in our review of "The Storm Without" that the seamier side of Ayr was portrayed by the author in a way the tourist board might secretly welcome. This seems to have been taken as a challenge by Tony Black, and the town Doug Michie now finds himself in is a nightmare of drunks, drug addicts and small time (and not so small time) criminals.
Almost against his will, and certainly against his better judgement, Doug Michie, finds himself involved by an old friend in the re-investigation of the stabbing to death of a young loyalist. The police investigation has petered out, and the prevailing theory, that this was a random attack on someone who simply found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, is one Doug Michie finds unconvincing. The murder took place in the leafy and relatively safe suburbs of Prestwick and seems planned and targetted. Michie has been engaged to look into the killing by a leading light in the loyalist organisation in Ayrshire, and it soon becomes clear that no-one he talks to is being straight with him. Why has he been employed to look into the murder? Why do the young man's family and girlfriend seem so unhelpful? What is really going on behind the scenes?
Doug Michie finds himself being dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind in Ulster, and a story which had very few shades of light at the beginning becomes steadily darker as we proceed towards a violent and genuinely unexpected conclusion. "The Inglorious Dead" is tightly, almost sparingly, written, and certainly provides a highly entertaining change of scenery for those used to Scottish detectives based in our large cities. Where to next for Doug Michie? We don't know, but we do hope we meet him again.