AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

August 17, 2011

Allan Guthrie’s Thuggish Thirteen—Brit Grit Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 5:38 pm

I am beyond thrilled to welcome Allan Guthrie to Ashedit. I asked Allan for “a few words” on the current state of British crime fiction and he delivered a microcosm of space and time in 13 paragraphs—a feat not unlike stuffing a battleship into a bottle. Allan’s name comes up time and again whenever British crime fiction is mentioned. He is the author of 5 novels, including a Top Ten Amazon Bestseller. His debut novel was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award and went on to win the Theakston’s Crime Novel Of The Year in 2007. He was also nominated for an Edgar Award. When he’s not writing, Allan is a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates. A complete list of his credits appears at the end of this feature.

Ray Banks, originally from Kirkcaldy but now living in Edinburgh, is part Ted Lewis, part Bukowski, part Palahniuk, and a whole lot Ray Banks. He’s best known for a 4-book series featuring Manchester-based, uprooted Scot, Callum Innes, that might just be the most realistic depiction of a British PI you’ll find. The last book, BEAST OF BURDEN, is just out now in the US and it’s one very brave piece of crime writing. He just released an ebook novella, GUN, which is an excellent introduction to his writing.

David Belbin made his name as a writer of YA fiction. His debut adult crime novel, BONE AND CANE, is set in Nottingham against the backdrop of the 1997 general election, and follows the intersecting storylines of Nick Cane, an ex-con just released after serving a sentence for growing wholesale quantities of cannabis, and Sarah Bone, his ex-girlfriend and Labour MP. Belbin hit the ground running with this book, scoring an Amazon UK #1, and there’s a lot of publisher support for the next book in the series. Very smart crime fiction, potentially as ambitious as David Peace’s RED RIDING QUARTET.

Tony Black

Tony Black’s another Scot with grit in abundance. His series about Edinburgh-based dypso-journo Gus Dury started with PAYING FOR IT and now runs to four books. Black conveys a remarkable sense of place, and Gus Dury – a man who’s never short of an opinion or two – is an excellent guide to the city. The first in a new police procedural series TRUTH LIES BLEEDING is just out as well, and Black has a novella pending with Pulp Press.

Londoner Steve Finbow is one of the best-kept secrets in modern crime writing. He’s written several shorter pieces and a novel, BALZAC OF THE BADLANDS, a post-modern thriller written in prose that reads like exquisite, brutal poetry. You can see traces of writers as diverse as Derek Raymond, Jack O’Connell, Tom McCarthy, William Burroughs, David Mitchell, David Peace and James Ellroy in his writing. He’s a bold experimenter, a formidable storyteller, a transgressive neo-noirist, and a linguistic genius. He has a novella in the works, a love story like nothing you’ve read before. It’s most definitely not Romeo And Juliet, folks.

I’m not sure I should mention Helen FitzGerald under the ‘Brit Grit’ label. For one,
she’s Australian. And two, THE DONOR, her latest, is being sold as general fiction. But she’s a gritty crime writer if ever I saw one, and her books are set (mainly) in Scotland, so I’m bloody well mentioning her! THE DONOR is outstanding, and currently riding high in the UK Amazon Kindle charts. Think SOPHIE’S CHOICE – with kidneys. Her novel BLOODY WOMEN is a female take on a Jim Thompson psychonoir. Another lovely book.

Doug Johnstone’s first two novels were more general fiction than crime, but his latest, SMOKEHEADS, is most definitely a crime novel. It’s irresistibly pitched as WHISKY GALORE meets DELIVERANCE, and follows the fate of four old friends on a whisky tour on a Scottish island that goes disasterously wrong. Noir aficionados should watch out for his next book, HIT AND RUN, published next year. I’ve read an early copy and it blew me away.

Douglas Lindsay is a superb comic crime novelist, often compared with Christopher Brookmyre. In fact, Lindsay appeared on the scene before Christopher Brookmyre with THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON, the first in what would become a long-running series featuring the eponymous Glasgow barber who gets involved in serial killings wherever he goes. If you like your crime fiction sprinkled with philosophy and haircuts (and who doesn’t, lets face it), then this is the series for you.

Simon Logan’s KATJA FROM THE PUNK BAND is described by the author as ‘industrial crime fiction’ – in other words, the literary equivalent of the music of Nine Inch Nails. And he’s right on the money. Logan’s a majestic writer, up there with the very best writers in the UK. This was one of those books you read where you have to tell everyone about it. It’s highly cinematic, reminiscent of RUN LOLA RUN with a healthy dose of JACKIE BROWN and the same overall mood as BLADE RUNNER.

Although Val McDermid and Ian Rankin are plenty dark and gritty, I think Stuart MacBride has become the most noir of the big name writers. In BLIND EYE, he really puts his cop protagonist, Logan MacRae, through the wringer. And in SHATTER THE BONES, his most recent novel and #1 bestseller, he once again refuses to give his hero a break. But the book that makes MacBride more noir than most is the standalone novel that’s coming out in January next year, BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD. It’s so gritty bits of it’ll get stuck between your teeth.

Russel D McLean writes a PI series set in Dundee, Scotland’s fourth city. He’s two books into the series, and the most recent, THE LOST SISTER, is as hard-hitting as it is poignant. Like Banks, he pulls off the difficult trick of making a British PI credible. And again like Banks, his characters are vibrant, messy, fully formed. His protagonist, McNee, is a fine example of good man trying to make sense of a senseless world. There’s a third McNee in the pipeline to look forward to.

Donna Moore’s Glasgow-set heist novel, OLD DOGS, has been perfectly described as ‘an Ealing comedy with violence’. Indeed. She combines grit and charm in a way that’s utterly unique. And she has a brilliant ear for authentic dialogue. She hosts a blog that focuses on Scottish crime fiction at Big Beat From Badsville and rumour has it that she’s writing a screenplay set in a retirement home.

Cathi Unsworth is very much influenced by the remarkable Derek Raymond, who wrote what he called ‘black novels’, and he didn’t mean dark grey: no, Raymond’s novels are as black as the inside of a collapsed tunnel once your Davy Lamp dies. Unsworth’s tour de force is BAD PENNY BLUES, based around the real-life serial killings of Jack The Stripper in the sixties, and it’s received countless thoroughly-deserved glowing reviews. Also check out her debut, THE NOT KNOWING, and her punk noir, THE SINGER.

Charlie Williams has just released ONE DEAD HEN, the fourth book in his Mangel Trilogy (a numerical paradox that fits perfectly with the tone of the series). The Mangel novels are a unique contemporary mixture of Jim Thompson’s insanity and Erskine Caldwell’s bucolic absurdia, set in a fictitious English town and following the hilarious and horrifying travails of demented doorman, Royston Blake, a force of nature and one of contemporary crime fiction’s most powerful creations.

Allan Guthrie is an award-winning Scottish crime writer. His debut novel, TWO-WAY SPLIT, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award and went on to win the Theakston’s Crime Novel Of The Year in 2007. The brand new Kindle version is available right now for the bargain price of 99p at Amazon UK and 99 cents at

He is the author of four other novels: KISS HER GOODBYE (nominated for an Edgar), HARD MAN, SAVAGE NIGHT and SLAMMER and three novellas: KILL CLOCK , KILLING MUM and BYE BYE BABY, a Top Ten Amazon Bestseller. When he’s not writing, he’s a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates.



  1. Just caught this, but off to bed. First impressions: what a crackin’ list! Some I’ve not yet read. Will be back 2moz to read in full.

    Comment by Col Bury — August 17, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

  2. Allan,

    Thanks for ‘introducing’ me to more hard-hitting wordsmiths. Gonna be fun checking ’em all out. Good stuff.


    Comment by Col Bury — August 18, 2011 @ 4:14 am

  3. Spot on there! I need to check out Douglas Lindsay, though. Looks like my kind of thing.

    Comment by Paul D Brazill — August 18, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  4. I’m “chuffed” as you Brits say, at the response to Allan’s piece. 173 unique visitors have happened by Ashedit in the few hours this feature has been up. Congratulations, Allan!

    Comment by ashedit — August 18, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  5. Sounds like some incredible stuff here. Man so much to read and so little time. I know it’s been said before. Never more true than now, and I think that’s a good thing.

    Comment by charlesgramlich — August 18, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  6. Great list since I only know half of these writers.

    Comment by Patti Abbott — August 19, 2011 @ 1:57 am

  7. Cheers for the comments, folks! Great opportunity to bring some exciting contemporary authors to the attention of prospective readers. Thanks for inviting me, Elaine.


    Comment by Al Guthrie — August 19, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  8. Allan, it’s very generous of you, not just to give Ashedit your time and attention, but also to introduce a bunch of fine writers who may not be as well known “across the pond.” I’ve already ordered some Ray Banks, and I don’t think I can miss Charlie Williams.

    Comment by ashedit — August 19, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  9. This is fantastic. In particular I’ve been meaning to track down Logan’s book as I find the idea of “industrial crime fiction” interesting.

    Comment by Chris Rhatigan — August 21, 2011 @ 7:54 am

  10. Hi Chris, I’m a little more than halfway through Charlie Williams’ DEADFOLK, and he’s as witty and off-beat as they say he is. Please let us know how you find Logan. (I just ordered DEADFOLK a few days ago on Amazon and it’s came yesterday.)

    Comment by ashedit — August 21, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  11. a great selection. i wouldn’t have expected anything less. when you put it together with Paul D’s list, it’s clear just how much talent we have over here.

    there is one new name there for me, Steve Finbow; i look forward to checking out his work really soon.


    Comment by nigel — August 21, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  12. and when the hell was that photo taken?

    Comment by nigel — August 21, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  13. Paul, I just read my first Barney Thomson, a most bizarrely sweet and gruesome tale. Unfortunately, what I thought was the first was actually the third, and now I know the plots of the first two; fortunately, the series isn’t a trilogy.
    I hope you enjoy the books as much as I am.

    Comment by joyfulalternative — August 21, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  14. Here’s a review of Doug Johnstone’s ‘Smokeheads’:
    The other twelve should follow in time.

    Comment by Len Wanner — August 23, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  15. Hi Len, thank you.

    Comment by ashedit — August 23, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  16. Chris — Logan’s an extraordinary talent. He writes in a highly non-expository manner, which is incredibly difficult to pull off, but which is by far my preference. Only wish I could do it half as well as SL.

    Nigel — you’ll enjoy Finbow. He’s a poet. As for the photo, that was maybe taken a year or two ago. Ahem.

    Joyfulalternative — I don’t think it matters too much what order you read the Barney books in. He’s far from a typical series character and the books are far from a typical series. Which is partly why they’re so damn good! Glad you’ve discovered him.

    Len — I’ll hold you to that!

    Comment by Al Guthrie — August 24, 2011 @ 3:53 am

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