Welsh's whisky links

Welsh's whisky links

Jefferson Chase looks at another home grown literary giant

Whisky & Culture | 29 Feb 2008 | Issue 70 | By Jefferson Chase

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One of the hallmarks of contemporary crime fiction is its liberation from the detective. Having been raised on Marlowe and Sam Spade, and countless inferior copies, writers today realise the last thing their readers need is another retread gumshoe.That’s led to a number of original experiments with the figure of the private investigator.Perhaps none is more unusual than Rilke, the hero of Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room – and a decadently gay antiques dealer.Rilke’s case commences when he is summoned by a Glaswegian spinster to dispose of her recently deceased brother’s household. The woman seems unconcerned with earning money.Her only stipulations are that the house be immediately cleared and the contents of the attic – her late brother’s sanctum – totally destroyed.When Rilke climbs up, he discovers a number of surprises, one of them welcome: The left wall was covered in waist-high, dark oak bookcases, books neatly arranged. In the centre were a plain office chair and desk, to their left a high-backed armchair, comfortable but scruffy, inherited from some other room, beside it a bottle of malt, Lagavulin. Dead man’s drink. I unscrewed the cap and inhaled a quick scent of iodine and peat which caught the back of my throat. It was good stuff, right enough.But when Rilke checks out the content of the bookshelves and the surrounding cardboard boxes, he’s left in need of a drink. They’re full of vintage pornography.A long time ago these people had moved and talked and laughed. The photographer had pressed the button, the shutter had clicked, their shadows captured on film. Forever young, debauched and laughing. What had she said, the woman at the front of the photograph? I could feel her energy. The instant the photograph was taken she had leapt to her feet and…If I could look with the right eyes I would see her move.At first his discovery leaves the antiques dealer, who realises the potential value of such a collection, with pound signs in his eyes.But elation turns to horror as the images progress from naughty fun to severe bondage and, finally, images of the woman lying dead.Is this merely staged necrophilia or a real murder? Rilke visits the owner of an erotic bookshop. What he’s told isn’t comforting.“The official line in my profession is that no snuff movie has ever been made…We all know, of course, that it has. I have never seen one, I know of no titles, but I know somewhere, there is a film of one person killing another at the point of climax. How do I know? Because reason tells me.Experience tells me. If someone has thought of doing a thing, then someone somewhere has done it. The world is an old and wicked place, Rilke, the dreadful has already happened.” Rilke, no stranger to the seedier side of Glasgow’s gay underground, must confront forms of transgression so diabolical he cannot help but feel morally repulsed.The bottle of Lag doesn’t survive long – especially after the bookshop owner offers to buy the photos.The Cutting Room, Welsh’s debut novel, works because it plays on the numerous similarities of the investigator and the collector – their mutual inquisitiveness and acquisitiveness, their allconsuming, never-quite-satisfying quest for the rare, the unknown and the authentic.Welsh was duly rewarded– she won the 2002 Crime Writers’ Association award for Best First Novel and established herself as one of the hottest young authors on the Scottish noir scene.She’s further proof that the Scots excel in words as well as whisky.
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