Many readers will know Tony Black from his excellent "Tartan Noir" crime novels set in Scotland. For those familiar with leading characters such as the alcoholic investigator Gus Durie; Detective Inspector Rob Brennan; and ex-cop Doug Michie, "His Father's Son" comes as something of a departure. It is a departure that proves that Tony Black's writing skills extend far beyond gritty Scottish crime. Mainstream fiction places very different demands on an author than crime fiction. Shorn of the innate attraction caused by the reader's desire to find out whodunit, the characters and the quality of the writing come much more to the fore, and the author has fewer hiding places. Against this background, it is good to be able to report that "His Father's Son" is a fine novel that tells a touching story of family life beautifully.
The story revolves around two leading characters. Joey Driscol is an Irish emigrant to Australia who hopes that the land of opportunity really does offer the chance to start a new life and leave behind the troubles of the past. His young son Marti, born in Australia, is growing up in the only world he knows, though with a strong sense of his origins in an Ireland interpreted through the memories of his father and of Shauna, his mother. Joey and Shauna arrived in Australia in the late 1960s and the novel is set in the 1970s, though it has an oddly timeless quality that is very attractive.
Somehow, though, paradise is never what you expect it to be once you have arrived, perhaps because it's the same old "you" who is experiencing it. Marti's world is dominated by the tensions in his parents' marriage, and Joey finds that however hard he thinks he is trying to make things work, the situation at home is deteriorating steadily, largely because of his inability to cope with Shauna's depression. Then Joey gets home to find that Shauna and Marti have disappeared, and he sets out on a difficult journey back to Ireland to find them, and perhaps discover himself in the process.
There are some lovely touches in this book, which is in part based on experiences from Tony Black's own childhood in Australia, Scotland and Ireland. We found the idea of buying a house from among those on display, complete, in a huge open-air showroom a fascinating one: and the idea of the complete house then being transported to the buyer's land and simply placed there a wonderful one.