"The Darker the Night" by Martin Patience is a fascinating combination of murder mystery and political thriller. What you find between the covers is an engaging read that becomes steadily more gripping as it moves towards its conclusion. The end result is a book that I'd recommend for anyone with an interest in modern Scotland.
It's worth quoting the publisher's blurb: "A referendum on Scottish independence is only days away, and the campaign has been expertly orchestrated by First Minister Susan Ward. All signs point to victory for the nationalists. But when senior civil servant John Millar is shot in a Glasgow alley on a furiously rain-soaked night, his death triggers a chain of catastrophic events. An incriminating phone number and video are found in his possession. Into this chaos walks reporter Fulton Mackenzie. A man himself blighted by tragedy but also someone used to seeing beneath the surface to find the truth. Who was John Millar? Who wanted him dead? And why? And the biggest question of all – who is trying to alter the future path of an entire nation?"
Some of the characters will seem familiar to many of the book's readers. We are presented with a highly effective police officer whose methods are sometimes less than straightforward and whose personal life is nothing to write home about; and a highly regarded journalist with a tragic back-story who lives in constant conflict with his editor and his teenage daughter.
Where the book begins to head off into less familiar ground is when the overlay of Scottish politics is applied. Martin Patience's Scotland is tweaked enough for it to be clear that we are not meant to be reading about real people, but it is close enough to reality for many of the questions it asks to be readily applicable to the Scotland around us. Yes, the female first minister of Scotland is obviously not the real one, and she heads up a Scottish Nationalist Party government rather than the real Scottish National Party (and Green) government. But when we begin to think about just how far certain people and certain agencies will go to influence the outcome of a referendum on Scottish independence, it begins to feel very real indeed.
Endings are very important to books: they can make or break them. I'm pleased to be able to report that "The Darker the Night" manages to square what seems an increasingly impossible circle as the story builds. By means of some nicely veiled and believable twists and turns the author comes up with an ending that works really well.