Canongate Books| 27 January 2022| 372 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 3.5*
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?
Thrilling and atmospheric, The Second Cut delves into the dark side of twenty-first century Glasgow. Twenty years on from his appearance in The Cutting Room, Rilke is still walking a moral tightrope between good and bad, saint and sinner.(Amazon UK)
I enjoyed reading Louise Welsh’s debut novel, The Cutting Room back in 2005, even though it was not the usual type of book that I read, and was way out of my comfort zone. I remember that its dark, edgy atmosphere made it compelling reading about Rilke an auctioneer who discovered a collection of violent and highly disturbing photographs. So when I saw that she’d written another novel, about, Rilke, The Second Cut I was keen to read it. I had forgotten most of the detail in The Cutting Room, but that didn’t matter as this book reads well as a standalone.
Twenty years have passed since the first book was published and much has changed in the world, but Rilke at forty seven years old, is now only four years older in this second book, still an auctioneer at Glasgow’s Bowery Auctions and ‘too tall, too thin and too cadaverous to look like anything other than a vampire on the make’. I found this somewhat confusing as The Second Cut is clearly set in the present day, with all the changes that have taken place in the last twenty years regarding the rights of LBGTQ+ people, and the references to Covid.
Just like The Cutting Room, I found this compelling reading, but not always comfortable reading, particularly about the darker side of Glasgow’s violent underworld and gay scene. The characters are vividly drawn and from start to end the pace is fast, and the details about the auction house are fascinating. There are two main threads – the first is Rilke’s determination to find out how and why his old acquaintance Jojo turned up dead on a doorstep.
Aand the second follows his suspicions about the truth behind the house clearance of Ballantyne House, a neglected Georgian house in Galloway, less than two hours from Glasgow. It was crammed with many valuable items along with the dross. It was owned by Mrs Forrest, an old lady who had been a concert pianist but was now suffering from dementia, so her son and nephew were dealing with the sale of the property and its contents. I read a lot of crime fiction, so I soon guessed what had happened to Mrs Forrest, and similarly I was immediately suspicious about what was going on in the polytunnels.
But it’s the gay scene that is the main focus of the book and in her Afterword Louise Welsh explains that she had written The Cutting Room twenty years ago in a white-hot rage about the intensity of the hostile environment against LBGTQ+ people. Although much has changed since then with equal marriages, increased visibility, access to hate laws, improved awareness of queer and trans rights, with a general consensus that violence and prejudice against LBGTQ+ people is wrong, outrages still occur. She writes that the Glasgow she inhabits is largely better, in terms of sexuality, than it was twenty years ago. I have to say that some of the scenes in The Second Cut seem to be stuck in the past – or have I got that wrong?
Many thanks to Canongate Books for a review copy via NetGalley