Fresh Blood

Name: Robbie Morrison

Title of Book: Edge of the Grave

'...there is a wonderful rhythm to Morrison’s writing. '

Glasgow, 1932. When the son-in-law of one of the city’s wealthiest shipbuilders is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut, it falls to Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn to lead the murder case – despite sharing a troubled history with the victim’s widow, Isla Lockhart.

From the flying fists and flashing blades of Glasgow’s gangland underworld, to the backstabbing upper echelons of government and big business, Dreghorn and his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid will have to dig deep into Glasgow society to find out who wanted the man dead and why.

All the while, a sadistic murderer stalks the post-war city leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. As the case deepens, will Dreghorn find the killer – or lose his own life in the process?

There is a wonderful rhythm to Morrison’s writing. Morrison really brought home to me the sights, sounds and smells of Glasgow 1932. There is an energy to his writing that thrums away like a Glaswegian tattoo (certainly not McDaid’s terrible bagpipe playing), that lifted Morrisons story, added a dimension to it and gave it body like a fine whiskey. I loved the characterisation of the wide and varied cast, in particular Dreghorn and the giant partner known as ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid. Both leapt off the page with their humour and determination. ‘Edge of the Grave’ is indeed a fine debut that will transport you to a grim time of unemployment, class distinction and many still haunted by their time at the front of the Great War. These poor guys had PTSD which wasn’t even recognised back then. They were simply labelled as mad.

Morrison has certainly done his homework and it really does bring this particular timeline to life. There were times I felt as though some information had been crammed into the story which didn’t really add anything, except to inhibit the pace of his gripping story. Although I fathomed the killer as I neared the end, Morrison’s mesmeric writing and the tortured soul of Dreghorn kept me deeply invested in this book.

‘Edge of the Grave’ is a highly evocative novel with a strong sense of place and Morrison brings to dark life this time period in an engaging and mesmerising way. As Morrison grows with each novel, he will indeed be a force to be reckoned with. The fact he won the Debut Award 2021 at Bloody Scotland shows something wonderful in development. I look forward to keeping Dreghorn and McDaid company in their next case. Highly recommended and worthy of the award it won.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You based your debut in Glasgow, 1932. Why did you choose this time frame?
I’ve always had a fascination with the 1930s in general and, in particular, the city Glasgow between the wars. The novel draws upon my family history, with links to Clydeside shipbuilding spanning four generations, but is also interwoven with some of my partner Deborah’s late mother’s reminiscences. My love of hard-boiled crime fiction and gangster films, and Scots writers such as William McIlvanney and Philip Kerr is also a big influence.

I’m really just trying to write the kind of books I’d like to read: stories that hopefully capture the power and drama of those times – crime, politics, wealth, poverty, the spirit of the people and the city and how they make each other what they are – but also have some resonance to our world now.
2) Jimmy Dreghorn is a complicated man, especially as like many who fought in the Great War, he is heavily scarred from his experiences in the trenches. Did you feel Dreghorn’s history, (plus his lack of height), was a character you could delve into? Will we learn more about Dreghorn?
Definitely! My plan is to explore Dreghorn’s character and background further as the series progresses. In some ways, we’ve only just scratched the surface. While I’ve created plenty of larger-than-life characters in comic-books and graphic novels, I’ve always been drawn more towards the human than the superhuman. Complications contradictions, flaws, frailties and vulnerabilities are much more interesting.

Jimmy Dreghorn’s background is partly inspired by my paternal grandfather Robert Morrison, who worked in black squads in shipyards along the Clyde and boxed under the patronage of one of Scotland’s wealthiest landowners – elements that feature strongly in the novel.

From our modern perspective, Dreghorn would probably be seen as more progressive than many of his colleagues in the 1930s police, but it’s not necessarily deliberate on his part. It’s more instinctual thing, something he can’t stop himself from doing rather than something he feels he should be doing. My thinking was that his ‘kill or be killed’ experiences during the Great War have made him step above petty prejudices such as gender, religion and class. Why is he a policeman? ‘Because I’ve seen the alternative,’ he says at one point in the book, referring to the horrors of WW1.
3) In the book you mention the horrific Quintinshill rail accident in 1915. How did you know about this and why did you feel it had to be part of the book?
The Quintinshill Rail Disaster is to this day Britain’s worst rail disaster, but in many ways seems to have been forgotten, possibly because it occurred at the height of the First World War, amidst carnage and casualties the likes of which the world had never seen before. I first read about it in an article in the Glasgow Herald by – if memory serves me right – a journalist named Jim Hewitson. Believe it or not, that was over 25 years ago and I’ve carried the clipping around with me ever since, waiting for the right story to incorporate it into.
4) I loved Dreghorn’s foil, ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid who is a towering giant who plays the bagpipes terribly. McDaid adds heart and comedy to the book. Is he based on anyone in your family history?
Aye, Archie seems to have gone down well with the readers, and he’s also one of my favourite characters. No, he’s not based on anyone from my family – we’re not that tall! He is inspired, however, by a real police officer of the period; a larger-than-life bagpipe-playing Olympic wrestler and Heavyweight Boxing Champion. I should also say that he isn’t a terrible bagpipe player. It’s only Dreghorn who says that – part of the light-hearted banter between them to alleviate the day-to-day grimness of the job.
5) You won the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize. How did that feel?
What can I say other than, bloody brilliant! It was also great to be shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize (won for the second time by Craig Russel for his brilliant ‘Hyde’), named in honour of the late great William McIlvanney, a literary hero of mine. In fact the title is derived derives from his ‘The Papers of Tony Veitch’: ‘It was as if Glasgow couldn’t shut the wryness of its mouth even at the edge of the grave.’
6) What is next for Robbie Morrison? Are we going back for another case with Dreghorn and McDaid?
We certainly are! I’m currently writing the next book in the series – Cast A Cold Eye, out next year.
7) What bit of advice would you give to anyone starting out writing their debut?
In practical terms, keep going. Have faith. Enjoy the process. Finish that first draft. Obviously, there’ll be rewrites and editing, but getting that first draft done is a big step.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Tough question because there’s so much great stuff around, and the choices would probably change from day to day, but I’ll go for the ones that have probably had the biggest influence on me: The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler; Gorky Park - Martin Cruz Smith; and Laidlaw - William McIlvanney.