If an Edinburgh tourist organisation ever considers approaching a Mafia hit man to eliminate an author, Tony Black has to be high on the list. In Last Orders he does not present an Edinburgh that is typical of the shortbread tin tartan tattery shops on the Royal Mile (a particular target of his ire) and he is definitely not in the tradition that Sir Walter Scott inflicted on Scotland in preparation for the visit by George IV. Tony Black is the kind of author who makes Irvine Welsh look benign, which is a considerable achievement.
The characters in these short stories, in which the private detective Gus Dury figures prominently, make Trainspotting look like an afternoon tea party in Morningside where you will have had your tea (sorry, but I couldn’t resist it). One of the themes that run through these stories is that of fathers forcing their daughters into a sexual relationship, and the consequences of such actions.
Black also explores the casual violence, drunkenness, sexual tension and lust which underlie particular kinds of male society, explaining the viciousness and trauma that can lead to these things. It emerges during the course of these stories that Dury himself is a victim of this, with a colossal ability to seek oblivion in vast amounts of alcohol.
None of this makes for easy reading, and I would guess that it is not the intention of the author that it should do so. It seems to me that he wants to explore and to expose the sheer unpleasantness of patriarchal society, and what the need to be macho does to men. Not that his women are angels by any means. Gail, the heroine of “RIP Robbie Silva”, if it is possible to use such a word for her, is clearly psychopathic and Lois, in “The Long Drop” is best described as deranged. Alana, in “Enough of this Sh*t, already” is clearly both.
Tony Black gives us an unpleasant but really compelling account of the underbelly of the society in which we live. He makes us consider how the hell we got into a mess like this, and does not offer any easy solutions about how we get ourselves out of it. This collection of short stories is a mirror for our time. We cannot claim that when we were a child we saw as a child, but now we see through a glass darkly. Tony Black gives us a clear photographic image of the world in which we live. The question is “what are we going to do about it”?
And I will be the first to admit that I haven’t got a clue.
Last Orders is published by McNidder and Grace