"Lawless" by Alexander McGregor is a well-crafted and gripping crime novel set in and around Dundee: a thoroughly enjoyable book that keeps you guessing, and turning the page, all the way to its violent and largely unexpected conclusion. Campbell McBride is a journalist returning to his home city from London to sign copies of his best selling book about real life crime in Dundee, and finds his account of one of the more straightforward cases challenged in a way that piques his interest. Is it really possible that Bryan Gilzean didn't murder his girlfriend despite the overwhelming and compelling evidence that he did? McBride is drawn into re-examining the case, and soon begins to uncover signs that something really odd is going on. Is someone trying to set him up in order to discredit him? Or is there a real killer still out there who is prepared to kill again?
While the book is a great read in its own right, the story behind the story is in some ways even more fascinating. Alexander McGregor is, like his fictional counterpart, a journalist, who has written a book about real crime in and around Dundee, "The Law Killers: True Crime from Dundee". The idea for "Lawless" was prompted by a discovery he made while researching the true crime book. Someone had carefully cut a single short sentence and a photograph out of the library copy of a newspaper account of a murder trial in Dundee. Alexander McGregor never did discover who did it, or why, and the discovery simply added to the list of puzzling features surrounding the murder itself.
You can therefore think of "Lawless" as the author's excursion into "what might have been", building on his real-life discovery to generate the plot for the novel. McGregor's own background as a journalist brings added depth to the story, and you get the feeling he thoroughly enjoyed describing the world that journalists inhabit and developing some of his characters. It isn't possible to read this book without wondering whether there are any journalists and members of the police in Dundee who would recognise themselves, or aspects of themselves, between its covers.