With Dougray Scott set to star in a film adaptation of his work, Tony Black is the rising star of Tartan Noir. Here, read an exclusive extract from his new novel Murder Mile
THE fluorescent green of the alarm clock stung DI Rob Brennan’s eyes as he awoke, but it was the ringing phone by the bedside that did the real damage.
He reached out, knocked it off its cradle and heard it clatter to the ground. His next instinct was to turn round and see if his wife was still asleep beside him, but she wasn’t there; he remembered now.
Brennan eased himself upright, leaned over the edge of the bed and retrieved the receiver; his voice rasped as he spoke, “Yes, Brennan.”
“Hello, sorry to wake you . . .” It was DS Stevie McGuire – the lad still hadn’t learned how to handle him, thought Brennan. He didn’t like people who opened conversations with the word “sorry”.
“What is it?”
The line crackled a little. There was a pause, Stevie preparing his words carefully – he knew that much then. “Boss, there’s been a call . . .”
“There better have been more than a bloody call if you’re getting me out of my kip at this hour, Stevie.”
The DS coughed gently, was he thinking of another apology?
“Yes, well . . . There was a call and we had uniform check it out. By all accounts it’s not pretty.”
Brennan’s interest was aroused. He massaged the back of his neck with his hand and then he rose from the bed, walked towards the window and stuck his fingers in the blinds. It was still dark out. “Go on.”
“The early reports are a female, sexually motivated.”
“Have you been to the scene?” Brennan knew he hadn’t; if he had he wouldn’t be relaying the uniforms’ report. He was reaching, making assumptions.
“No.” Stevie sounded defensive now. “The victim’s half naked, bound and tied.”
“So it looks sexually motivated, Stevie.” He let the implication hang.
Brennan removed his fingers from the blinds, turned towards the bed. The wind outside worried the window latch. “Where is she?”
“Just off the bypass . . . Straiton will be about the nearest if you’re mapping it.”
“She’s in the wilds?”
McGuire’s tone softened, he seemed to be relaxing again. “A field . . . The boffins are setting up, or on their way there now.”
Brennan gouged a knuckle into his eye, rubbed. He was awake now, but not fully functioning. It was cold in the room, it would be colder outside; the chill air would wake him, he thought, if the job didn’t get there first. “OK, Stevie, pick me up in fifteen.”
He hung up.
Brennan returned the phone to its cradle and looked at the pillow lying beside his; it didn’t look slept on. His thoughts zigzagged for a moment. He turned away, flicked the light switch on, immediately his eyes creased in a defensive move as the shadeless bulb burned. He let his vision adjust for a moment or two and then he headed towards the wardrobe. He stood firm footed as he tried to grasp what his next move should be. He grabbed the first shirt he came to – pale blue, button-down collar – and matched it with the first pair of trousers he found – grey, chino-style – they had been put away with the belt still in the loops and were saggy kneed; he dressed quickly.
In the bathroom the strip light was even brighter. Brennan ran a cold palm down his chin but knew a shave, even a quick run over with the electric razor, was out of the question. He looked at his stubble, it had started to lighten, there were white spikes poking through; he wondered why the greying hadn’t reached the hair on his head yet. In a moment the passing thought was expunged from his mind; he had more serious matters to consider now. The demands of the job always came first and he felt vaguely guilty to have let himself forget that, even for a second. There was a woman lying dead in a field – that was his focus now.
Outside the bathroom, Brennan stood in the top landing staring at his daughter’s bedroom door. A light flickered on the inch or so of exposed jamb – she had fallen asleep with the television on again. He’d told her about that a dozen times but had always been ignored. He sighed; there was another talk he needed to have with Sophie – one he didn’t want to have – and he wondered how she would react.
Brennan grabbed his jacket and overcoat from the banister, headed downstairs. He looked at his watch as he went, it read 3:42. McGuire would be arriving in under five minutes. In the hallway outside the kitchen door Brennan put on his jacket, fastened the buttons, then fitted himself into his overcoat. He felt bulky as he thrashed about looking for his cigarettes. He tried all his pockets; they weren’t there.
“Hell,” he mumbled.
Brennan turned the handle on the kitchen door, walked in. He saw his wife straight away; she was sitting with her face towards the wall, smoking one of his cigarettes. He looked at her for a moment, tried to discern some kind of meaning from the tableau but could find none.
“Joyce . . .”
She had heard him come in, couldn’t have failed to, but she refused to acknowledge him. He stared on, she was still for a moment longer and then she brought the filter tip of the cigarette up to her lips and inhaled deeply. Brennan continued watching her for a few seconds longer and then retreated through the door.
In the hallway, he shook his head and made for the front door. He opened up and stepped outside. At the end of the driveway Brennan felt his mind jam with incoming thoughts, none of them aligned with what he knew he should be occupying himself with. Was this the way it was going to be now? Day after day fading into one another, into insignificance. Did nothing matter any more? Certainly nothing he did made a difference. Every emotion he felt was pastiche – a throwback to childhood or adolescence when feelings meant something, indicated a mood shift or a new sensation. There were no new sensations in adulthood. Nothing was new. All that was left was the husk of experience. Life was drudge. Endless routine. It took something painful – the shock of hurt, tears – to bring back the unsettling realisation that you could still feel.
Brennan wondered if this was why he stayed in the job. It certainly wasn’t the rewards. There was no satisfaction – even capturing a killer and seeing justice served came after the event, after the killing. His job was making sense of the mess, sweeping up after it; but never halting anything.
He saved no one. If he knew this, understood this, then what did that make him: a ghoul? Did he simply get off on witnessing other people’s hurt? Did it make him feel more alive – just alive, in any way – to be so close to death and to people’s encounters with death?
Brennan stamped his feet, tried to knock out the cold. He felt his lungs itch for tobacco. When he got like this, a cigarette always helped. He didn’t know why; all he knew was the simple act of lighting up took him out of himself.
He put his thoughts into the cigarette, then watched them burn up. Wullie had always said, “Never trust your mind, Rob . . . It’s a tool, a bloody good tool, but don’t let it rule you.” You had to listen to your gut too, and if there was a choice between gut and head, the gut was always right.
As the VW Passat rolled into view, McGuire raised a hand above the wheel and signalled to Brennan. The car stopped next to the kerb, dislodging some rainwater from the gutter. McGuire had the passenger’s window down, was leaning over, “Think we’re going to have our work cut out with this one, sir.”
Brennan grabbed the door handle, stepped in. “Is that what you think?”
McGuire turned, his face indicated angst, his eyebrows rose in an apse. “Revise what I said about looks sexually motivated, sir . . . We’ve got genital mutilation and some seriously sadistic carving. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
WITH a film deal already signed and sealed, Tony Black’s sights are set on becoming a TV star.
Gus Dury, the main character in the author’s first series, is set to be lifted from the page on to the big screen, its smaller equivalent and stage, too.
The Evening News revealed last year that Dougray Scott, below, was to star as Dury in a movie adaptation of Long Time Dead, the fourth and – until now – concluding part of the series.
Now a script is being developed by Capital screenwriter Pete Martin for a TV version of Black’s first novel, Paying For It, with networks showing a keen interest.
Meanwhile, playwright Chris Taylor is bringing a Gus Dury short story, Last Orders, to the theatre later this year. For Tony, the productions will be a dream come true.
He says: “It’s great to get all this interest in the Dury novels. The consensus from those in the know is that they’re great to work with as raw material – really filmic – but I never wrote them that way.
“It’s hard enough writing a novel without one eye on the screen. Still, it’s a huge vote of confidence and I’m looking forward to the results.”
But he says he’ll stay in the shadows until the adaptations are complete. “I’m leaving them to those who know best,” he says. “Richard Jobson has a real handle on the series and I couldn’t wish for a better filmmaker.”
MURDER Mile is the sixth novel to come from Capital crime writer Tony Black.
The second featuring Detective Inspector Rob Brennan, it tells the story of a serial killer stalking Edinburgh.
Brennan, who in his previous outing in Truth Lies Bleeding tackled a paedophile ring, now must track down a sexually motivated slayer attacking women across the city.
At the same time, he’s under intense pressure from a media hungry for answers and one which has nicknamed the killer the Edinburgh Ripper.
Tony says: “It’s the first time I’ve written about a serial killer. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of Jack the Ripper and thought it’d be interesting to see how Edinburgh would cope with something similar in the modern age.”
The author, a former Evening News journalist, was born in Australia and has lived in various places across the UK and Ireland. He only turned to crime writing upon moving to Edinburgh seven years ago.
He puts the Capital’s reputation as a fertile breeding ground for “Tartan Noir” down to writers wanting to mess with its clean-cut tourist image.
“Edinburgh is such a scenic city and people don’t expect shockingly bad things to happen here,” says Black. “But it also has the sink estates and places where tragic things happen.”
The 40-year-old has two more books in the offing this year. In July, he’ll publish The Storm Without, featuring a Burns-quoting detective – hence the title – based in Ayr, where the author grew up. RIP Robbie Silva, a heist novella, will also soon be published as an ebook.
• Tony Black will read from and sign copies of Murder Mile at Blackwell’s bookshop, on South Bridge, on Tuesday, April 17 at 6.30pm.