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The Long Knives by Irvine Welsh


A sequel to 2008's Crime (now a hit TV show), The Long Knives rejoins Ray Lennox in his latest case, although the sun of Miami has been replaced by the familiar surroundings of Scotland's capital city. 14 years on from the original, fans will enjoy the continuity, but it also works as a standalone novel.

The story begins with a castration. This is the first of many gory and graphic scenes that will unfold over the course of the novel.

The plot follows Lennox and a slightly unwieldy cast of bent cops and their associates as they try to track down the killer of a reactionary Tory MP who has been left in a Leith warehouse. Amusingly his dismembered penis will soon be found at a well known tourist attraction.

What unfolds is a pacey and well constructed story that jumps between Edinburgh, London, and even Iran.

Written in third person, it may lack some of the harshness and intensity of Welsh's first person narratives, but it does maintain a lot of his trademark style and familiar interests (such as Hibs) and even includes an unexpected cameo from Trainspotting veteran Sick Boy.

Where this suffers is the regular polemical segues which on occasion make it read less like a narration and more like a manifesto.

With observations such as, “Politics shouldn’t be what it has exclusively become: a pastime for bored, rich, narcissistic sociopaths, useless for any other kind of employment and hardwired only to syphon off the resources of a community into the pockets of their elite sponsors”, it sometimes feels like it falls on the wrong side of show don't tell.

The analysis may be agreeable, but, particularly when presented as narration rather than dialogue it can disrupt the flow and occasionally feels a bit contrived.

One area which has garnered attention is Welsh's handling of identity politics and trans characters.

The book can't really be divorced from the ongoing moral panic that has been unleashed on our politics, not least because Welsh plants it firmly in that context. That is why the characters are routinely debating issues and terms that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time on Twitter (which I expect has had a not insignificant impact on Welsh's thinking and the level of priority he gives this aspect of the story).

It's hard to imagine that the book and its trans characters will age well.

To be fair, despite falling into tropes, it is handled with rather more sensitivity than you may anticipate from an author who gave us such monstrous characters as Francis Begbie and Juice Terry.

Like his characters, I expect Welsh is still getting used to the generational changes that are taking place, but it often feels like its added on to be topical and get people talking rather than out of any particular conviction on Welsh's part.

After 30 years Welsh still packs a punch and flair and a longevity that few writers will ever enjoy. It is to his credit that he is still releasing work that is enjoyed by so many. The Long Knives certainly doesn't rank among my favourite of his novels, but I doubt it'll be the last we see from him or his version of Edinburgh.



The Long Knives | By Irvine Welsh | 384 pp. | Jonathan Cape | Hardback £9.49


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