James Robertson - The Professor of Truth (4 stars)

James Robertson - The Professor of Truth

A contemporary story dealing with the aftermath of a Lockerbie-like attack

(Hamish Hamilton)

Twenty-one years after the death of his wife and child in a plane bombing, Dr Alan Tealing remains unconvinced by the official account of this atrocity. Tealing’s obsession with what he calls The Case defines the novel: this is Lockerbie in everything but name. Indeed, while James Robertson’s previous novels have been seeped in Scottish culture, he opts to avoid a precise location in the Scottish-set first act, where Tealing, an English literature lecturer, is visited one wintry night by a terminally ill American intelligence officer. This encounter sends Tealing to rural Australia, where a second act is played out in searing heat.

Beyond the bold political narrative, this tightly structured novel carries wider themes such as the effect of time, and the veracity of what we are told by those in power. Robertson’s construction of Tealing in the opening chapters is exceptional, with his flawed protagonist driven by an overwhelming desire, not for justice, but for the truth that he hopes will bring him peace. Meanwhile, Tealing’s resistance to rebuild his shattered existence is a compelling study of grief, and Robertson’s description of the immediate aftermath of the bombing is superbly written, sensitive but provocative.

The Australian heat zaps the energy in the second act where the pace slows a little too much; Tealing is patient when the reader demands urgency, but the climax – also driven by an act beyond his control – delivers a satisfactory conclusion and confirms Robertson as one of Scotland’s great contemporary storytellers.

James Robertson

The poet and novelist discusses his work. James Robertson is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and editor. He was former writer-in-residence at Brownsbank Cottage, home of Hugh MacDiarmid and founded ITCHYCOO, which publishes books in Scots for young readers.

James Robertson: The Professor of Truth

The Saltire prize-winning author discusses his latest novel, The Professor of Truth, which sees a man continue to be obsessed with the deaths of his wife and daughter in a plane bombing more than two decades after it happened.

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