The Blade Artist

Written by Irvine Welsh

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Blade Artist
RRP: £12.99
Released: April 7 2016

A family outing at the seaside is shattered, not by violence but by suspense and a presentiment of outrages to come. Our emotions are engaged from the outset: there is shock as a couple of foul-mouthed lechers accost a mother and child in the sand dunes, heartfelt relief at the approach of the father, followed by trepidation at his vulnerability confronting armed villains, finally awe at their backing down. Then you realize that the potential rapists were no more than rabbits in the face of a tiger.

Jim Francis has an intriguing past. The reader learns it by degrees, the rabbits, suddenly. Rage is the identifying feature of this man, landing him in prison for manslaughter, rage now sublimated to the harmless but lucrative art of sculpting the busts of celebrities, mutilating them and selling the results to the sitters. In California Jim is a rich and successful artist, happily married with two cherished little girls. Back home in Edinburgh, before the last stretch in prison, he was Frank Begbie, a middle-aged recidivist mentored by his appalling grandfather Jock: raised as a thief and drugs runner, amoral, treacherous, sadistic, and a killer at thirteen.

There is little philosophy in this book, only action and raw Scots dialogue. In Edinburgh Begbie has three children by different women although one son, an addict, has been murdered in a sleazy tenement. His father, observing tradition, comes home for the funeral only to be beset by the family demanding he find the killer. But Frank has found redemption in prison; through counselling and his arts teacher (whom he married) he has conquered his dyslexia, discovered books and learned to control his rage, although well aware that, like an alcoholic, he is always on the cusp of chaos.

In Edinburgh, in the opulent mansions of the gangster super-rich, in the squalid tower blocks and deserted docks the inevitable happens and the family man from California: seductive lover and father figure reverts to pit bull but manipulative and hypocritical: a post-modern anti-hero.

Welsh breaks all the rules. Where his Scots vernacular is colloquial, his English is carefree. He changes tense from one paragraph to another. He gives new meaning to words. He gilds the lily in demonstrating that this is a hard man who doesn’t kill but decimates people. Violence is pervasive and predictable, the climactic tortures so ingenious they are reminiscent of a cookbook.  

A novel that will enthral the media and fans of “Trainspotting”. One shade of noir.


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