Alan Warner - The Deadman's Pedal (4 stars)

Evocative and personal rural drama from the Morvern Callar author

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Alan Warner - The Deadman's Pedal

In a literary career which has played down the overly autobiographical tendency (all that writing from a female perspective malarkey for one thing), The Deadman’s Pedal seems far and away Alan Warner’s most personal fiction to date. We return to the Oban-ish terrain of Morvern Callar with a story which focuses on the character of Simon Crimmons, just out of school in the summer of 1973 and looking for gainful employment. He finds it on the railways (just like Warner) to the annoyance of his Yorkshireman father (the same heritage as the author’s dad) who runs a successful lorry firm (and that’s where it ends, as papa Warner managed a hotel).

Past and present collide with Crimmons working during a time of major labour relations strife alongside the old school as represented by passive-aggressive John Penalty (a great Warner-esque name that) while in his spare time he courts the Caine sisters and Varie Bultitude (another cracking moniker), the mysterious and possibly demonic daughter of a local Commander of the Pass.

Warner isn’t a travel writer per se, but his output on modes of transport is clearly a strong suit. The descriptions of airports in The Stars in the Bright Sky – his Booker-longlisted Sopranos sequel – were a thing of rich beauty and the opening pages of The Deadman’s Pedal, painting a layered picture of trains and the Highlands landscape they power through, are evocative and captivating.

He does tone it down once the story gets motoring, (the reader would likely suffer from a rough case of vertigo if Warner kept that level of detail up) but you may well be drawn to re-reading that stark beginning once the tale concludes.

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