BLURB: LONGLISTED FOR THE McILVANNEY PRIZE 2016
Joseph Staines, an unemployed chef, has left Edinburgh with the tallybook of the late debt collector, Isa Stoddart. Her son Lachie thinks Stainsie killed her, but Lachie has apparently committed suicide. To his surprise, Stainsie is the sole beneficiary of Lachie’s will and has inherited a dilapidated mansion. Isa’s debtors and the local priest who paid Stainsie to leave town want him gone. A certain young mum, Marianne (whose uncle, Wheezy, is Stainsie’s drinking buddy) does too, and his old school-friend, Detective Sergeant Jamieson, wants to interrogate him about the deaths. Why are the lawyers lying to him, and who is the bruiser asking about him down the pub?
Another review, from earlier this year this time, of a book which ended up on the McIlvanney Prize Longlist, but, sadly, didn’t make the final four – although, in mitigation, the standard of books this year is very high. But it puts Ms. Kelly’s name on the map, and, as I say at the end of the review, this one is highly recommended.
This book is quite a difficult one to review, without giving too much away, but here goes. It’s essentially the story of Stainsie, our down-on-his-luck hero who likes the odd drink; there’s also various time slips, where we learn about his past. (Note: it’s not the sort of timeslip novel which features two beautiful girls, born centuries apart, a manor house, and a secret.) Well actually that’s not true – there is a secret. Who killed scheme matriarch Isa Stoddart: money lender, runner of protection rackets, drug dealer, and goodness knows what else. The job of solving it falls to Stainsie – mainly because everyone on the scheme is firing his name in, and because the lady of his dreams, Marianne, thinks she was responsible as she had a wee rammy with Isa just before her death. Initially given money through a collection made by the priest round the scheme to get out of town so the blame falls on him, Stainsie, for once, returns to find the real culprit. One of the reasons Stainsie seems to be a likely candidate is because he’s inherited Isa’s mansion (the house of the title), due to the subsequent death of her son, who only had one friend – Stainsie, who he’s known since primary school. Luckily, DS Jamieson – another member of that class, coincidentally – knows he didn’t do it as he was sleeping off a big session in one of Edinburgh’s finest police stations. Accompanied at times by his good friend Wheeze, who also struggles to pass a pub, but is barred from all those on Leith Walk as he keeps winning their general knowledge quizzes and emptying the machines, he sets out to investigate. Because if the police can’t find the killer, he figures it’s up to him. And it might just get him in the good books again with the delicious Marianne…who also happens to be Wheezy’s niece.
But his problems increase when a second body, from approximately 30 years previously, that of a female aged 14-25, is found. A girl appears with Marianne at the priest’s house where he’s staying and announces she knows who it is – but as one of the timeslip sections show, Stainsie already has a pretty good idea of who the girl is – and who was responsible for her premature death.
Throughout the book, Stainsie has to come to terms with what has happened because he stood by and let it, rather than standing up and doing the right thing. And now he has the opportunity to do something worthwhile, will he succeed? And how will a guy who can’t refuse a drink cope when he’s up against the laddies-with-pit bulls who see Isa Stoddart’s empire as theirs by rights – as well as the new guy in town who’s not afraid to use a blade to get his message across, that message being, the empire is mine now. Stainsie isn’t remotely interested in Isa’s crime empire, but the house certainly looks like it’s worth a few quid – enough for a fresh start.
Stainsie’s story, although told with all the wit of the best pub comedian you’ve ever heard, is a sad and all too familiar one, of a life going downhill, particularly when his wife and children leave him for a better life. His only solace is in alcohol; his only friend Wheezy, and (possibly) the ex-soldier hardcore priest.
A Fine House In Trinity is a welcome addition to the Tartan Noir scene, providing as it does a more light-hearted approach to solving a crime. Lesley Kelly is a fine writer, entertaining us throughout. The near-300 pages are deceptive, as this is a book perfect for romping through in one sitting. I look forward to seeing what this talented lady does next.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Sandstone Press, in exchange for an honest review.