Cast A Cold Eye – Robbie Morrison

cast a cold eye

Review by Pat Byrne

In 2021 Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison was Bloody Scotland Debut Prize winner. His follow up novel, Cast a Cold Eye, sees him one of the four McIlvanney Prize finalists at Bloody Scotland 2023. With another novel set in Glasgow in the 1930s we again meet up with Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn and his partner, the big Teuchter Archie McDaid.

The story kicks off with the pair, along with WPC Ellen Duncan, successfully apprehending a suspect in a robbery in a colourful manner beside the Forth and Clyde Canal. While at the scene  a woman expresses her concerns about a neighbour who owns one of the barges. On board they find the body of Charlie Smith. This is not a crime where a fight that has got out of hand but an execution by a professional where death was caused by a gunshot to the back of the head.

Thereafter follows a fast paced and intricate tale with numerous twists and an abundance of characters.  Morrison handles his material with confidence and pizzaz creating a number of gory and violent scenes but also displaying sensitivity and including enough Glesga banter to put a smile on the reader’s face.

With ease he immerses you in the 30s where gangs proliferate in the city, mainly divided along sectarian lines.  Regarding the crimes being investigated, including murder and the city being flooded with illegal tickets for the Irish Sweepstake, the leaders of Catholic gangs are of particular interest to Dreghorn and McDaid, They are also the focus of the attention of members of the Special Branch and clashes occur not only between the detectives and the suspects but also among the investigators.

Scenes are vividly created and colourful characters drawn with ease, sometimes meeting in iconic Glasgow settings such as the Saracen Head Pub, the famous Sarry Heid at the Barras. Connections are sinister, including historical links with freedom fighters in Ireland and the notorious Black and Tans.

There is considerable excitement as the bodies pile up and harrowing events occur including a tragic bombing in a busy working class street where children are playing.  There’s also a violent prison breakout. These frightening scenes sit alongside homely family life such as at McDaid’s house where his wife encourages Dreghorn to be part of their life.  The inspector often makes the wrong choices and more often chooses to  assuage his loneliness in the company of a woman mired in scandal, putting his career at risk. Known as ‘Gentleman’ Jimmy Dreghorn in an earlier boxing career, he is an intriguing main character; his chivalry and concern are displayed in relation to the young policewoman, Ellen Duncan, who serves to illustrate the particularly high degree of inequality women suffered at that time.  However, Dreghorn is not above using brutality and cruelty towards the bad guys.

It’s an excellent read, raising questions including just how long the desire for vengeance can last?  The writing is accomplished and keeps you engaged until the very end. The story has definite tellability and enjoyable colloquial dialogue but don’t plan on reading it when you’re sleepy – you’ll need to keep your wits about you to grasp the numerous plots within the plot.

Pat Byrne, September, 2023

See Grant Morrison and Robbie Morrison at Bloody Scotland 2023 on Saturday 16 September



Glasgow Doors Open Days – University of Glasgow ARC
Bloody Scotland 2023: Grant Morrison and Robbie Morrison

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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