Book reviews: The Second Cut and The Anomaly
Most people think that crime novels are driven by plot rather than character. But my experience writing in the genre over the past decade and a half suggests otherwise – it’s the books with the strongest characters that live the longest in readers’ hearts.
So it was with Louise Welsh’s first novel The cutting room, published in 2002. Introducing the cadaverous gay auctioneer Rilke to the world, it has become a modern classic of British detective fiction. So it’s incredibly exciting that Welsh has chosen to revisit Rilke for the first time in 20 years with The second cut. Rilke is 20 years older but not necessarily wiser, still working as an auctioneer in Glasgow and still skirting the darker edges of the city’s gay scene.
The LGBTQ+ community is once again the focus of Welsh’s attention here, giving him plenty of leeway to examine how things have changed over the past two decades, but also where danger still lurks.
As if to underscore this, the book opens with Rilke at a gay wedding, where he receives house clearing advice from Jojo, an old friend who is still in the seedier side of town. When Jojo shows up dead the next day, apparently from an overdose, Rilke is full of guilt. The police don’t think much of an old party animal that ends up dead in a doorway, but Rilke has other ideas and begins to investigate Jojo’s death and a possible connection to the big house. of which he was informed.
It’s an absolute joy to be back with Rilke after all this time. He’s naturally more thoughtful as the years go by, but he’s still an outsider, never quite able to fit in anywhere. Along with that, Welsh brilliantly deals with his character’s questionable morals – he’s basically a good man who tries to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always go to plan.
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With gang violence, human trafficking and murder thrown into the mix, The second cup is a crime novel of the highest order. But it also has a lot to say about both the changing nature of society and how we can fit into it. And at the center of it all is Rilke – confrontational, contrary and brilliant. Wonderful stuff.