Book review: No Sweet Sorrow, by Denzil Meyrick

With superyachts moored off the Mull of Kintyre, drugs flooding into the area and DCI Daley and DS Scott on the trail of a missing student, Denzil Meyrick’s latest Kinloch novel makes for an engrossing read, writes Allan Massie

Only those of us who have happily followed DCI Jim Daley and DS Brian Scott through at least half a dozen of Denzil Meyrick’s 11 Kinloch novels know that the Mull of Kintyre is one of the most dangerous, crime-infested places in Scotland, even if not, when one thinks of Rankin’s Edinburgh and the work of sundry Glasgow writers, quite the nation’s Crime Capital. All the same, it’s a perilous place, all the more so because the deep water allows the gross superyachts of vicious oligarchs to dock there.

This time it’s winter, cold and snowing, and a party of Oxford students have travelled to the area to prepare for an expedition to Everest. There is also a lot of drug crime. Soon, one of the students will lose a couple of fingers, chopped crudely off, and it’s not long before a severed head will appear. Meanwhile, Daley is suffering from acute back pain and has been prescribed powerful, opiate-based pills – strong enough to enable him to continue to work. The pills are dangerously addictive, however, as Scott repeatedly warns him. The alcoholic Scott knows more than enough about addiction, but is now happily and for the moment securely on the wagon.

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To add to their problems, a local drug dealer has received threats, and the already deeply disturbed woman who has received the severed head turns out to be a former police officer, who suffered a breakdown as a result of her involvement in a horrible crime featuring deeply damaged children. As if this isn’t enough, one of Daley’s officers is also suffering a breakdown, and may have been guilty of wrongdoing under severe pressure. Then one of the students disappears on a night exercise and his girlfriend, Delph, has also been attacked. To make matters worse, the fathers of two of the students turn up, both hugely rich and, we may be sure, very nasty characters. The superyacht belongs, of course, to one of them.

Denzil Meyrick PIC: Kirsty AndersonDenzil Meyrick PIC: Kirsty Anderson
Denzil Meyrick PIC: Kirsty Anderson

Moreover, Daley is oppressed by his superior officer, ACC Cunningham, who distrusts him and who, as is usual in Tartan Noir novels, is a conceited and incompetent twerp.

Fortunately there is some relief from the hectic action for the reader when the scene shifts to the bar of the County Hotel, now managed by Scott’s wife – a place where Hamish the ancient, philosophical fisherman holds court. But even the bar of the County isn’t what it used to be, so many of the locals – and not only the younger ones – now preferring drugs to beer.

It’s all very engaging and makes for very enjoyable and pleasant reading. One can say “pleasant” because, as is usual in crime fiction, the more bodies turn up, the less they matter, except, one should add, when the hunt is on for a credible serial killer. It’s not like that here, and the chief villains are as agreeably preposterous as they are nasty.

The relationship between Daley and Scott gives the novel ballast, and the relationship of each to his wife is more credible than the violent action. Daley may be a conventional hard cop with a tender heart, but it is Scott, with his decency, loyalty, common sense and frequent malapropisms, who gives these novels a warm and often comic humanity. One can’t get enough of him. The plot may teeter on the verge of the absurd, but it never quite falls over the cliff-edge.

Meyrick’s Kinloch novels are addictive. Those who already delight in them will find this new one up to standard, while new readers will surely be eager to track back and seek out the earlier books.

No Sweet Sorrow, by Denzil Meyrick, Polygon, 404pp, £8.99

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