Devil You Know

Scottish thriller writing, arguably, goes back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the fiction of Conan Doyle. Contemporary authors writing in the genre such as Ian Rankin and Val McDermid are often consummate prose writers whose riveting narratives offer a critique of modern Scotland and characterisations of impressive depth and psychological profundity. We think of Rankin’s detective, John Rebus, for instance.

Macphail’s teenage thrillers, then, are rooted in a rich tradition and in this latest book she tells a compelling tale and successfully depicts a society at odds with itself in which teenagers often feel marginalised. The words ‘loner,’ ‘outsider’ and ‘weirdo’ abound in young Logan’s narration, describing both himself and his associates. Where the author differs from those named above is that her characters lack substance, rendering them largely unconvincing, which detracts substantially from the overall success of the work.

Newly arrived in Glasgow, Logan makes few friends except Baz and the boys, with whom he socialises, and Lucie who provides truth and clarity in his world of growing chaos. Logan’s account of his home life is ambiguous, from the fate of his father to the motives and status of his mum’s partner. Clearer is his recall of the torching of a warehouse and the subsequent targeting, one-by-one, of Logan and his friends by a Glaswegian criminal gang. His capture by them in a deserted building proves the precursor for a radical reappraisal of his life, a reassessment that draws, interestingly, on the legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson.