Gordon Ferris - Bitter Water
Easy Tartan Noir read lacking in excitement and originality
Tartan Noir has been steadily gathering pace over the years as more and more Scottish authors try their hand at crime writing, and Gordon Ferris is the latest to be heralded as the ‘new Ian Rankin’. But the excitement that should come from the eventful plot of the second novel in the Douglas Brodie series, Bitter Water, is dampened by a lack of originality.
Ex-police officer and soldier Douglas Brodie is the Glasgow Gazette’s newest reporter. Fresh from an investigation where an innocent man was hanged for an offence he didn’t commit, Brodie is trying to put his crime-fighting past behind him and settle into life as a journalist. But the discovery of the body of a Glasgow councillor brings more than just material for his crime column. Instead it sets off a chain of events that leads to a group of Bible-quoting vigilantes taking the law into their own hands to right the wrongs of Glasgow’s corrupt judicial system.
Have-a-go hero Brodie embodies every cliché of the genre; characterising him as an ex-policeman, ex-soldier, academic and journalist gives Ferris license to let him get away from unbelievable situations. He’s an adequate protagonist; swanning around 1940s Glasgow, smoking, drinking and dithering between lust for young secretary Morag and possible love for lawyer Samantha Campbell while the first person narrative reveals a tortured soul, torn between a natural inclination for peace and the killer instinct of his army training.
Ferris has a chance to redeem himself with Campbell, a feisty well-educated advocate who takes no crap from Brodie. However, he reminds us that as a female she’s fallible, and her struggle with the aftermath of a previous adventure contradicts her characterisation as a heroine.
Brodie’s own words sum up the overall feeling of Bitter Water: ‘“That will be the cavalry, I expect,” I said to anyone who was listening.’ No one was, and by those final few pages neither was I. If you’re looking for an easy, predictable story this novel will suit you, but if it’s excitement and originality you’re after perhaps it’s time to reconsider.