The Bird That Did Not Sing

The Bird That Did Not SingWritten by Alex Gray As Glasgow prepares itself to host the Commonwealth Games, a mysterious explosion devastates an area of woodland close to one of the venues. Police and the fire service investigate, but the motive for the blast remains a mystery.

Months later, much closer to the opening of the Games, Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is keeping a close eye on the case, but he has more pressing personal matters. He is asked to attend a reunion at his old high school, and reluctantly agrees to go. Suited and booted, he meets up with the love of his teenage years, the beautiful Vivien Gilmartin. They reminisce about their time together and when the evening ends, with something of a heavy heart, Lorimer says farewell and drives back home to his wife. Later, he is woken by the telephone. It is Vivien. She has found her husband – a noted theatrical impresario – dead in bed, and so she turns to her old friend for help.

Gilmartin seems to have died of a heart attack, and while the investigation continues, Vivien comes to stay with Lorimer and his wife, Maggie. All is not as it seems about Gilmartin’s death, but Lorimer is further distracted by the discovery of a dead black girl at a nature reserve on the edge of the city. She proves impossible to identify, apart from a distinctive Celtic tattoo. Implausible though it may seem to him, Lorimer begins to sense a connection between the mysterious explosion of the previous year, the dead girl, and a ruthless gang of people traffickers. Could the lovely, fragile Vivien be responsible for her husband’s death, and how was he connected to the traffickers?

Lorimer is a decidedly unfashionable policeman as far as the genre goes. He is decent, courteous, rather solemn and ponderous, with a wife to whom he is devoted. He shuns foul language, never makes a joke, drinks only in moderation, has no beef with his superiors and, unlike some of his fictional contemporaries, does not have an iTunes playlist to resonate with modern culture. So is he just a tiny bit dull? Perhaps he is, but it is quite refreshing in to read about a man who is unambiguously good, both as a human being and a copper. He never really comes close to succumbing to the charms of his former girlfriend, despite her undoubted allure. She comes across as something between Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall, and at one point I am sure she is called ‘a flame-haired temptress’, but perhaps I imagined that bit.

Despite the body count, and the grim trade of the villains of the piece, the book doesn’t quite cut it as Tartan Noir, but perhaps that was the author’s intention. There is plenty of tartan, particularly when ancient clan grievances dating back to The Highland Clearances put in an appearance, but the overall atmosphere is wholesome rather than dark. The plot is ingenious, and the main strands are woven together well. The absence of phonetic dialect is a relief, but then just near the end a young girl drug addict pops up speaking in broad ‘Glasgae’, which jars a little. Without giving the outcome away, I have to say that I was expecting more of a cinematic climax than the one we got, but suffice to say the worthy Lorimer lives to fight another day, and he might even get to go on his postponed holiday to the Hebrides.

This is 11th Lorimer adventure. The previous one was The Swedish Girl which you can read about here.

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CFL Rating: 3 stars

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