Source: Review copy
Publication: 27 January 2022 from Canongate Books
My thanks to Canongate Books for an early copy for review
Auctioneer Rilke has been trying to stay out of trouble, keeping his life more or less respectable. Business has been slow at Bowery Auctions, so when an old friend, Jojo, gives Rilke a tip-off for a house clearance, life seems to be looking up. The next day Jojo washes up dead.
Jojo liked Grindr hook-ups and recreational drugs – is that the reason the police won’t investigate? And if Rilke doesn’t find out what happened to Jojo, who will?
This has been a book so worth waiting for! I adored The Second Cut. Louise Welsh brings an easy familiarity to the city of Glasgow and at the same time pokes under its flabby belly to expose a raw and sometimes paper thin skin. Her writing is sharp, funny and insidious. Her characters are glorious; brilliantly drawn, they get under your skin and their humanity shines through even when the morality is somewhat ambiguous.
The Second Cut is a novel worth waiting for. It follows on 20 years after The Cutting Room, though is easily read as a stand-alone. Contemporary and full of wit, it transcends the crime genre. Welsh displays a glorious depth of knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community in Glasgow. Here you will find the sheer brutality of Grindr; meet the trans twins, attend an orgy and learn more about chemsex than perhaps you should as you enjoy the vibrant glorious world of Rilke, an older man with a kind heart who still lives his life in search of hook ups.
Rilke is an auctioneer at Bowery Auctions, working for Rose, who has a more off than on relationship with Detective Anderson. Things are hard in the midst of the Covid era, and so when in his cups, JoJo gives Rilke information about a fabulous estate sale that he can secure if he’s quick off the mark, there’s no hesitation in following up the details. Not long after, however, JoJo is found dead and Rilke was seemingly the last person to see him alive.
The police don’t see any suspicious circumstances, but Rilke can’t help feeling the something isn’t right. JoJo wasn’t in great shape, it’s true, but there was no reason he should have keeled over and died.
From the off, there’s something spooky about Bannatyne House, where the estate sale is to take place. They pass the scene of a bad car crash on their way in to the house and not long after arriving make a gruesome discovery in an old trunk that turns pretty much everyone’s stomachs. Were it not for the seriously good range of treasures in the house that will make them a hefty commission, Rilke might well turn round and go home.
Things don’t get any better when allegations start to surface about the behaviour of the brothers selling the estate on behalf of their mother, now suffering, they say, from dementia. Rilke finds an Asian man on the road in a state of real distress and calls in Anderson to ensure that the man, who is incoherent, is properly looked after by the system.
Rilke has a heart and it can be softened, despite his need to uncomplicated his life and have no encumbrances. Thus he finds himself involved when JoJo’s flat mate, Sands, wants to raise enough money for JoJo’s funeral.
Being Scotland, connections are everywhere and it doesn’t take much for Rilke to fall foul of the latest ‘big man’ on the scene, Jamie Mitchell. Rilke’s world is complex and everyone knows everyone else, or is at least only a couple of steps away, and that, especially in the gay scene, means that everyone really does know everyone else.
Louise Welsh has made the contradictions in Glasgow shine out. As a character it is both bold and brash, loudly proclaiming its past. All this it does with no irony, despite its foundations being built on the backs of slave labour. Welsh exposes these contradictions in the way that you’d chastise a badly behaved lover; you know all their faults, but you expose them so that they can be cleansed and you can love them better and more openly.
There’s modern slavery here too, and a thriving drugs trade that preys on the young and old and makes sure that dark and disturbing elements are never too far away from the surface. Here we have fascinating and sometimes quite disturbing characters whose veneer of respectability hides a dark and brooding violence.
Verdict: This is a delightful, well plotted and brilliantly characterised novel that shows you loneliness, greed, sad sex and sorry violence. It’s glorious, so well written and full of spirit and humanity. Stylish and yet squalid, The Second Cut is chock-full of life, vivid, gleaming characters and a brilliant witty spirit. I haven’t described it well enough, because it is so good that I’m a bit tongue tied, but trust me, this one is fabulous and goes straight to the top of my must read recommendations.
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Louise Welsh is an award-winning author of eight novels. The Cutting Room, her debut novel, won the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award and the Saltire First Book of The Year Award. In 2018, she was named the Most Inspiring Saltire First Book Award winner by public vote. She is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.