The Bone Yard by
hbk out July 98
Published by Hodder Stoughton
How, enquired one of the many laudatory reviews of Body Politic, his Creasey Award-winning debut, might Paul Johnston develop his 21st century sleuth Quintilian Dalrymple and his hometown, the scrupulously detailed independent city state of Edinburgh?
Not that much is the disappointing answer. True, the city has fallen on
hard times. After a world catastrophe or two, revenues from one of the
city's few lifelines, its rich Arab and Far Eastern tourists, have dried up. So it is no surprise that the city system, built around the
principles set down for Callipolis, the utopian city of Platos
Republic, and now reinforced by a newer, younger set of guardians, is
looking increasingly shop-worn, not to mention sexually decadent.
The first hint of something amiss comes at a city Council New Year
party when Dalrymple catches an unguarded reference to The Bone Yard.
Then an old friend of his turns up dead; stuffed inside the sexually
mutilated body is a tape of Eric Clapton playing the blues (Tribute to
Elmore, for the cognoscenti). Naturally, as this modern utopia has
largely (and mysteriously) succeeded in banishing murder, and Dalrymple
is about the only citizen around with experience in detecting its
perpetrators, he is asked to investigate...
Johnston just about successfully negotiates the problem that often
besets the sci-fi writer: how to reconcile the creation of a credible
milieu with a smooth, easily assimilated prose style. But then
characterisation suffers somewhat as the writer leavens his literary
landscape (and dialogue) with a clutch of often entertaining but
sub-Chandler similes, spread indiscriminately amongst his cast. And no
amount of classical trappings, blues references and 21st century
fireworks can disguise the workings of some fairly well-worn plot
But read this book as a fast-moving, often bitterly funny thriller, set
in an imaginative world of a kind rarely encountered in crime fiction
and you'll probably enjoy it.