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by Alex Gray
Allison and Busby, May 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082380

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Scottish crime novel is alive, well and delivering some hearty kicks with hob-nailed boots. There's Denise Mina in Glasgow, Ian Rankin in Edinburgh and Stuart MacBride in Aberdeen. Also in the fray is Alex Gray in Glasgow -- but she's not yet in the same league as the other three.

SHADOWS OF SOUNDS is the second in the police procedural series to star DCI Bill Lorimer, and it feels too much like crime writing by numbers. The plot is serviceable, the writing technically efficient, but the characters just aren't there.

Lorimer is a one-dimensional hero with some bland colleagues and a snotty boss. There's the obligatory rocky private life, as his wife Maggie has gone to America to teach, and he's not sure if this signals the end of his marriage. And his sidekick, psychologist Solly Brightman, is totally unmemorable.

The action takes place around a symphony orchestra. George Miller, the City of Glasgow's orchestra leader, meets a nasty end in his dressing room before a performance. It turns out Miller had a very tangled love life and was an unpleasant bit of work who wasn't at all fussy who he took to bed.

SHADOWS OF SOUNDS is a quick and easy read. But it's the kind of book where, the more I thought about it, the more little things in it niggled me. The newspaper bit, for example, is not only annoying, but also inaccurate. The journalist would have seen Lorimer in court rather than reveal his sources. And Gray's attempt at a news story proves that most non-journalists just can't capture the writing style required for news writing -- this 'article' was artificial beyond words.

And one other aspect stops me from recommending the book with a clear conscience. Gay relationships form a significant part of the plot, and Gray's portrayal of them is on the surface matter of fact. But underneath it there's more than a hint of hidden homophobia.

When Lorimer, playing the good Samaritan, takes a homeless young man into his house after the lad has been involved in an accident, the assumption from some people is that he must have ulterior motives. And in the end -- and this really isn't giving much away -- there are no sympathetic gay characters, and all their relationships end in tears. It left a faintly nasty taste in the mouth.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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