Detective Inspector Bob Valentine has recently returned to work in the West Scotland town of Ayr after being stabbed in the heart on a previous case. A rare night out with his long suffering and concerned family is interrupted by a murder. A man has been discovered face down on his kitchen table in a pool of blood.
The corpse is identified as James Tulloch, an ex-soldier currently employed at Meat Hangers, a nightclub owned by local thug Norrie Leask. Leask is a police target but he always manages to get away. Tulloch, who has as bad a reputation as Leask, was killed by a practiced stab wound to the neck and his partner Sandra Millar and her daughter Jade are both missing.
Valentine must work with DS Sylvia McCormack who has recently transferred in from another squad. They discover that the Millars aren’t the only people who’ve disappeared. Leask himself is out tearing up the town trying to find Finnie – an employee of his who was also in the army. When a Major Rutherford of the Fusiliers Regiment turns up looking for one of his men who’s gone AWOL, Valentine knows he’s got a web of deception to unravel.
The missing soldier is none other than Jade Millar’s brother, Darry. It transpires that the murdered Tulloch, Finnie and Darry are all from the same regiment and Rutherford is on the scene for less than altruistic reasons. With Chief Superintendent Marion Martin breathing down his neck, keen to improve her team’s clear-up rate, Valentine knows he must find Jade and the real killer before a miscarriage of justice occurs.
Tony Black is a prolific author who has gained plenty of recognition, but deserves much, much more. There’s a reason Irvine Welsh calls Black his favourite British writer.
This is the second in the Valentine police procedural series, following Artefacts of the Dead, which we reviewed here. However, there is very little reference to the first novel, other than the fact that Valentine was stabbed in one of his vital organs and that this can affect his frame of mind. The story’s told from several perspectives, flipping between the main protagonists, although we only see Valentine from an investigative point of view. The chapters are short and punchy, generating a speedy narrative. The setting is suitably gritty, believable and well drawn. Ayr is a town slipping fast towards the edge, suffering from the effects of austerity and deprivation. The other location is Arran, which is almost idyllic in comparison. The author knows both well – recently relocating from the former to the latter.
The characterisation is of equally high quality. The leader of the pack is Valentine. The past events which haunt him – literally – give him some added depth. His home life is a mix of good (a strong family) and bad (a devotion to his job that creates challenges). But what makes Valentine a little different to the rest are his visions. He sees people who have passed just before someone else is about to expire. It’s a recent development and one he’s struggling to deal with. The shades of the paranormal in A Taste of Ashes add flavour and subtlety but never go over the top.
Tony Black is one of the leading lights in Scottish crime fiction as A Taste of Ashes proves. If you haven’t read any of his work previously then this is as good a place to start as any.
Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.
Rating: Five Stars