Allan Watson is a writer from Glasgow whose work leans towards the deliciously dark end of the fiction spectrum. In between books, he once wrote extensively for BBC Radio Scotland, churning out hundreds of comedy sketches, which some people have unkindly commented were all basically a variation of one single joke. When not writing, he masquerades as a composer/musician, sometimes collaborating with crime writer Phil Rickman in a band called Lol Robinson with Hazey Jane II whose albums have sold on four different continents (Antarctica was a hard one to crack). He also once spent three days as a stand-in guitarist for the Bay City Rollers, but he rarely talks much about that…
This year Allan has got a gig at Bloody Scotland, he is appearing at Crime at the Spotlight and will be the support act for Ambrose Parry aka Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.
I read and reviewed Heart Swarm last year and to give you a wee taster before the festival it gives me great pleasure to share my review with you again. Thanks to Sarah over at BookOnTheBrightSide for asking me to take part!
Before I share my thoughts, here’s what the official blurb says:
It feels like history is repeating itself when out-of-favour detective Will Harlan gets summoned to a murder scene in the village of Brackenbrae after a young girl is found hanging in the woods. Five years ago Harlan headed up the investigation of an identical killing in the same woods; a mishandled investigation that effectively destroyed his credibility as a detective. The new case immediately takes a bizarre twist when the body is identified as the same girl found hanging in the woods five years ago. The following day a local man commits suicide and the police find more dead girls hidden in his basement. It seems an open and shut case. Until the killing spree begins. Harlan finds himself drawn into a dark world where murder is a form of self-expression and human life treated as one more commodity to be used and discarded. The only clue that links everything is a large oil painting of ‘Sagittarius A’ – a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy orbited by thirteen stars, the canvas daubed in blood with the words – Heart Swarm.
Well, what a kick-ass start to a book! It might be set in a small village but it sure has its fair share of trouble!
Although Brackenbrae is a fictional village, it is set about 5 miles away from where I live and I immediately recognised that “small village” feel about it, you know the type, where a stranger walks into the local pub and everyone turns around and stares with the silent whisper of “you’re not from around these here parts”. Now the body count may stretch the boundaries of realism given the size of the village, but it is FICTION so in my book that is allowed! After all, it isn’t going to be much of a page-turner if there is one death that gets solved immediately is it! So let yourself go with the flow and enjoy.
With a cast of bloody skin crawling characters, Heart Swarm uncovers paedophile rings, murder, blackmail, conspiracy and some unholy goings on in this small village and Detective Will Harlan is het for solving the case. However, his place at the helm hasn’t come without difficulty nor some compromise from him and he finds himself wondering if he has bitten off more than he can chew, especially when his daughter’s safety is placed in jeopardy.
Heart Swarm is not for the faint-hearted in terms of the issues it covers but it isn’t gratuitous and there are no lengthy descriptors but you are left in no doubt of the horror that has taken place.
I was totally mesmerized by Harlan, he is a complex character who seems to have screwed up his personal life big time. I swayed from empathising with him to despising him throughout the book. He’s not the most likeable character I’ve ever come across but there is a certain Je ne sais quoi that gets under your skin! His relationship with the rest of the team at times seems non-existent, apart from Cara and DSC Walker (rank) nobody else seems to like him! I really would like to see where Allan Watson goes with him in the future.
One of my favourite locations in the book was The Cathedral House Hotel, which is a real hotel based in the Townhead area of Glasgow. Such was my intrigue that I had to visit and see it for myself, which was brilliant at getting the picture firmly in my head of Harlan as a resident in the hotel. Oh, I do love a good location that sticks in my head!
Some will say this novel is far-fetched and that it stretches the boundaries of the imagination a little too far, however, when you look back over the years at some of the shocking and heinous crimes committed in small sleepy towns and the scandals unearthed then safe to say you were probably incredulous at that too. Heart Swarm is a work of fiction and as such, there needs to be an element of exaggeration but it covers issues too dark to contemplate and I would argue that it covers certain issues relevant and prevalent in our world today.
Heart Swarm introduces us to a new voice in Scottish Crime Fiction in Allan Watson and I hope we see more of the genre from this talented writer. A fast-paced read which will twist your mind in knots!
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