I’ve been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. I’ve written 11 true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now I’m concentrating on fiction. Doesn’t mean I won’t, some day, come up with another factual piece – there are a couple of old cases I’d love to get into – but for now I’m making stuff up.
I’ve been on the telly often, which is a scary experience but more so for the viewer.
BLOOD CITY, published in 2013 by Luath Press, introduced Davie McCall, a young Glasgow hard man with a heart – a good man walking in a bad man’s skin.
CROW BAIT (2014, Luath Press) continued Davie’s story, pitting him against his murderous father.
In DEVIL’S KNOCK (2015, Luath Press) Davie tries to find a witness to a brutal murder while dealing with a Hollywood star who wants to pick his brains.
OPEN WOUNDS (2016, Luath Press) is the final book in the quartet. Davie wants out but will the Life let him? A miscarriage of justice may help him find redemption, while the woman who has moved in upstairs might finally bring him love. But in Glasgow’s underbelly, death is only a bullet away.
THE DEAD DON’T BOOGIE (2016, Contraband) is something of a departure – and the beginning of a new series. Dominic Queste is an off-beat hero who calls himself an odd-job man. One of those odd-jobs is to find Jenny Deavers for her aunt. But there are dangerous people on the young woman’s trail and Queste, more often than not armed only with a string of one-liners, finds himself and his friends in the firing line.
TAG – YOU’RE DEAD (2017, Contraband) saw the return of Dominic Queste, this time under threat from a ruthless killer who seemingly chooses his victims at random.
THE JANUS RUN (2018, Contraband) is yet another departure. My previous fiction was all Scottish-set but for this I take my imagination across the Atlantic to tell a fast-paced chase thriller set in New York. The aim was to create an action movie on the page, with definite throwbacks to the 70s even though set in the present day. When Coleman Lang wakes up to find his girlfriend dead in his bed he finds himself not only the prime suspect but also on the run from the law, the feds, the mob – and perhaps even the shadowy Janus organisation he thought he’d left behind years before. With only a trigger-happy former Mafia hitman at his side, he must dodge the bullets to find the truth.
My true crime career started with feature articles in the Glasgow Evening Times, then my first book BLOOD ON THE THISTLE (Mainstream, 1992), now out of print.
That led to my involvement in the case of two men convicted of an horrific multiple murder on dubious evidence. The subsequent book, FRIGHTENER (Mainstream 1992), (written with Lisa Brownlie) helped kickstart a campaign to have the case re-examined by the courts. The two men were eventually cleared on appeal.
In NO FINAL SOLUTION (Mainstream 1994), a selection of unsolved Scottish cases, I linked a series of murders in Glasgow and Edinburgh. At the time the police scotched the notion but ten years later they launched an investigation into possible links between these, and other cases.
In MY BLOODY VALENTINE and DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (both Black and White) I was able to turn my back on modern crime and write about older cases, including retelling the Burke and Hare story from the point of view of their wives.
INDIAN PETER (Mainstream) is the true adventure tale of a young man kidnapped from the Aberdeen quayside, transported to the American colonies, shipwrecked, sold as an indentured servant, captured by Native Americans, escaped, fought in the French and Indian War, captured again, exchanged as a prisoner of war, returned to Britain – and then his life really began! Once back in Scotland he commenced a 20 year legal battle to prove that powerful men in Aberdeen were behind the kidnapping trade. As he did so be became an author, printer, publisher, publican and formed the first penny post in Edinburgh.
It’s a fabulous tale and I hope I did it justice. It remains one of my favourites.
I narrated a half hour documentary on BBC Radio Scotland on Peter Williamson’s life.
In DARK HEART (Mainstream) I returned to Edinburgh to tell the story of the Tolbooth, the notorious Heart of Midlothian. In its life it was many things – centre of commerce, council building, parliament house, court house and finally town jail. It was one of the most important buildings in the country’s history and yet nothing of it exists, which is a shame.
My final non-fiction work was GLASGOW’S BLACK HEART (Mainstream), an account of Glasgow’s criminal history from the year 1800. It was an epic tale, encompassing bank robbery, murder, terrorism – a secret history of the city, in fact.
At least, I THOUGHT it was my final non0ciction work. In 2017 I was tempted back to write AMAZING AND EXTRAORDINARY SCOTLAND (Rydon Publishing), a pocket-sized hardback packed with loads of facts and stories about the country I love.