"Good News, Bad News" by William H. S. McIntyre is a fast-moving and thoroughly enjoyable crime novel that will appeal to all fans of Tartan Noir. The thing is, though, that it's not really Tartan Noir. No-one quite gets murdered, and while there is criminal activity aplenty this is a book that stands out from a busy marketplace for being memorably different. The major difference is that the protagonist isn't some world-weary cop in one of Scotland's major cities. Robbie Munro is a world-weary criminal defence lawyer in West Lothian given to wry observation and genuinely entertaining one-liners. He has a reputation for sailing close to the wind, and a habit of making a distinction, not widely shared amongst his peers in the legal establishment, between the application of the law on the one hand, and the application of justice on the other. As he says at one point: "Where was the fun in having an innocent person acquitted? It was like a doctor curing someone who had nothing wrong with them in the first place."
Robbie has plenty on his plate. He's asked to represent a young lawyer, Antonia Brechin, on a drugs charge. She is the granddaughter of the notorious Sheriff Brechin, a man Robbie has repeatedly crossed in court and with whom he shares a mutual loathing. He's also asked by an old client, Ellen, to find her husband, who has disappeared after swindling one of West Lothian's most notorious criminals, Jake Turpie, out of a great deal of money. The search is made more complicated because Turpie also wants to find Ellen's husband, to make real the belief held by many that he has killed him. Robbie has to juggle the demands of these and other clients with a hectic private life and the result is a book with multiple intertwining strands that keeps you turning the page all the way through to its nicely satisfying and nicely concealed conclusion.
The author, William H. S. McIntyre is a partner in Scotland's oldest law firm and has three decades' experience as a criminal defence lawyer. The most obvious effect of this is the sense of authenticity that leaps off every page. The complexities of Scotland's distinctive legal system provide a fascinating backdrop to the plot. That would count for little, however, without an engaging and well-told story, and believable characters. "Good News, Bad News" is amply supplied with both. Robbie Munro is especially successful as a central character: you can empathise with him without necessarily always liking him, and his sense of humour adds greatly to the book's attraction. As we said at the beginning of this review, it's a bit of a push to describe the book as Tartan Noir despite it sharing a similar backdrop. Perhaps Robbie Munro's world might best be described as "Tartan Gris"? However it might be described, the bottom line is that we very much look forward to reading the next book in the series.