Gritty crime novel brings grisly murder to famous Leith church - Liam Rudden
If it was Out in the Cold, that drew me into the world of crime writer Stuart Johnstone's Sergeant Don Colyear, it's sequel, Into the Dark, has cemented the author’s place on my 'favourite authors' list and brought his rogue copper much closer to home than I ever could have imagined.
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Since the success of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, so many crime novels have been set in the Capital. Edinburgh, and more specifically Leith, offer the perfect settings for foul deeds and murder most horrid to take place.
When Johnstone introduced readers to Sgt Colyear in Out in the Cold last year, his hero had been banished to a remote Highlands town where, on the surface, nothing ever happened. In the sequel, he's found his way to Edinburgh, where he is working in a community policing role, although, it's not long before he finds himself caught up in a series of grisly murders linked by a seemingly supernatural aspect than only he sees.
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It's another terrific read from the author whose first novel saw him hit the ground running after his writing had attracted the attention of no less than master story-teller Stephen King himself. Now, not many crime novels jolt me upright in my seat as I read but Into The Dark did just that when I discovered that one of the murder sites was St Mary's Star of the Sea Church on Constitution Street, where, in another life I was an altar boy for more years than I care to remember.
There's something particularly disturbing when the gruesome dispatching of a victim takes place in a location that is so instantly recognisable.
Indeed, Johnstone isn't the only novelist to have been captivated by the allure of the large Gothic parish church and its mansion-like priest-house, grounds and gardens, the priest-house also played a big role in Lesley Kelly's debut novel, A Fine House In Trinity. Another great read published by Sandstone Press, priced £8.99.
Gritty and insightful, as you might expect from the pen of a former police officer, Into The Dark is published by Allison & Busby in paperback, priced £12.99, and as the murder investigation advances, Johnstone takes advantage of Edinburgh and Leith’s innate ability to become an integral characters to any novel in which they feature. In this case, other familiar landmarks of the port, not least Leith police station and it's upstairs Court Room and Town Hall bring the action home even more as does a journey down Leith Walk – I’m walking a ‘spoiler’ tightrope here.
Picturing those locations in my mind as I raced towards the final chapter of Into The Dark made for a strangely personal and at times visceral read. That seldom happens, if fact, the last book to do that was Peter Ritchie's Maxine's Story, the tale of a working girl on the streets of Leith as her world collapses under the weight of addiction and mounting debt.
Also set in the Port’s dark and often violent underworld, it's a gritty, poignant tale yet one that maintains a thread of hope and redemption. Once again, Ritchie is an ex-police officer and it’s worth checking out his Detective Grace Macallan series, published by Black and White. It seems ex-coppers make good crime writers.