Written by Russel D McLean — Jen Carter, the young Glaswegian bookstore clerk who narrates this book, makes one tiny mistake at the novel’s outset. When she comes home late at night to find her apartment door open, she searches the place, kitchen knife in hand. A noise in the hall cupboard tells her that she missed the intruder’s hiding place. In position outside the closet door, she panics when it opens and the person inside stumbles out onto her knife. Could happen to anyone, right?
It turns out the dead man is her ex-boyfriend, the eponymous Ed. Confused and racked with guilt and mistaken feelings of culpability, she compounds her dilemma. Instead of calling the police, she calls Ed’s nerdy roommate Dave. Dave gets into the spirit of concealment and, while Jen sleeps, he dismembers the corpse to make transportation easier. He even cleans up. Once he’s done that, there’s no going back, no possibility of bringing in the cops after all. Dave and Jen deposit poor Ed – that is, the pieces of him – in a remote stretch of Loch Lomond.
A closer examination of Jen’s messy hall closet reveals what Ed was doing in there. He’d broken into the apartment in order to retrieve two duffel bags he’d hidden among her disorderly belongings. One contains an enormous stash of money and the other an enormous stash of drugs.
Dave takes the drugs and Jen takes the cash. Why not, really? Really? But just as the grip of panic is starting to loosen its hold on Jen, she gets a frantic call from Dave. She rushes to his apartment to find him dead, too. Not pleasantly. Now the police are interested in her, as are the gangsters who brought Dave to such an untidy end. Soon, more bodies litter the field, and Jen is on the run not only from the cops but also from the city’s criminal overlords whom Ed had been scamming. They want their money and drugs back.
Though the body count is high, McLean writes this first-person story with a light touch and a bit of heartbroken bemusement, if those two words can live in the same sentence. Jen can’t understand how her relatively orderly life has gotten so out of control and never expects to have the resources, internal or otherwise, to foil the determined criminals, led by the evil old man, Solomon Buchan. Nevertheless, she keeps trying to rise to the occasion.
This escapade takes her to mean and gritty parts of Glasgow – and herself – that she’s never visited before. Jen rightfully wonders whether she will ever get back to normal: “I have to wonder if I’m losing my humanity, somehow. If all this death has inured me to the reality of what’s happening.”
Good question, that. Her fears about what she’s become are made more real when the crime boss demands that she save herself by doing what she seems to do best – he wants her to kill someone. By then she’s dug herself in so deep, all she can see is the need to keep digging.
In Jen, McLean has created an appealing protagonist, with a strong and consistent voice. The men in her life are a constant disappointment and danger, so when she says, “Brilliant. Men are always at their smartest when they think they’re being macho,” you understand the depth of her sarcasm. Though you may see some of the plot twists coming, and some may not bear close examination, the writing is so silky smooth it focuses your attention on whether Jen can slip out of trouble again and how she may try to do it. It seems strange to say that a novel with so many bloody fatalities can be fun, but this one is!
For our interview with Russel D McLean, click here. Ed’s Dead arrives 16 March in print but is out now for Kindle.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars