Friday, June 30, 2017

Review of Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris (Corvus, 2013)

1947, Glasgow. Former policeman, then army major, now crime journalist Douglas Brodie is living in sin with lawyer, Samantha Campbell. When the Jewish community in the city ask Brodie to investigate a series of burglaries, he agrees, needing the cash. He solves the crime, but the thief is killed before he can be apprehended. In turn, the killer is murdered. Unnerving Brodie and the Jewish community are the evidence of links between the victim and the Nazi regime. In the meantime, Sam is asked to travel to Hamburg to take part in the war crimes trials. Brodie took part in the first trials as an investigator and when Sam is due to return for a second stint he’s asked to accompany her to help prepare the current cases. It’s also an opportunity to examine any link between the concentration camps and Glasgow. What he discovers suggests a conspiracy that will have dramatic repercussions. To help crack the case Brodie joins forces with his old police friend, Danny McRae – a man with his own shady past.

Pilgrim Soul is set in Glasgow and Hamburg in the cold winter of 1947. It charts journalist Douglas Brodie’s investigation into a string of burglaries affecting the city’s large Jewish community, the possible presence of former Nazis in the city, and his participation in war crimes trial in Hamburg having previously been involved in earlier trials when in the British army. There’s much to like about the story. Brodie is an engaging character with an interesting back story. There is a strong sense of place and time, with a nice portrait of Glasgow and its social context. The story is well contextualised with respect to the war crimes trials, including the inclusion of some real life Nazi criminals.  The plot, for the most part, is well crafted and interesting, and there’s a strong, steady pace. For the first two thirds of the book it was a solid five star read, despite one obvious telegraphed plot device. What unsettled the book for me, was the arrival of Brodie’s old, pre-war fellow policeman, Danny McRae. Pilgrim Soul is the third book in the Brodie series, as well as the third in the McRae series. In my view, the intersection of the two series was a problem for two reasons. First, the plotline and denouement attached to McRae creates one too many twists that felt overly contrived and unnecessary. The story would have stood perfectly well on its own without McRae being involved. Second, I’ve not read the previous two McRae books, only the Brodie ones, but I now have a fairly full precis of what happens, including their resolutions that’ll probably ruining any mystery to those books if I read them. Nonetheless, Pilgrim Soul was an entertaining and interesting read.

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