In the last decade of the twentieth century people
bought crime fiction like there was no tomorrow - which soon turned
out to be the case for many of them. It isn't hard to see why detective
stories were addictive. The indomitable heroes and heroines with
their reassuring solutions prolonged the illusion that a stable
society existed outside the readers' security windows and armoured
Since the Enlightenment won power in Edinburgh, the popularity of
crime novels has gradually declined, though not as much as the guardians
think. They would prefer citizens to read philosophical investigations
rather than those of Holmes and Poirot, Morse and Dalgliesh, but
even in the "perfect city" people hanker after the old
I often have trouble deciding what to believe. All the same, the
message that the Council sent on my birthday gave me even more of
a shock than the first time I heard James Marshall Hendrix playing
the "Catfish Blues".
I shouldn't have been so surprised. Sceptics and detectives have
the same general principle: the only thing you can be sure of is
that you can't be sure of anything at all.
Ghost-grey day in the city and seagulls screaming
through the fog that had been smothering us for a week. Tourists
started to head up George IVth Bridge for the Friday execution.
I was the only local paying attention. If you want to survive in
Edinburgh, you've got to keep reminding yourself this place is weirder
than sweet-smelling sewage.
My shift with the squad of Parks department labourers was due to
finish at four but I'd made up my mind long before that. I had an
hour before my meeting with the woman who signed herself Katharine
K. It was 20 March 2020, I was thirty-six years old and I was going
to break the rules.
"Are you coming for a pint, Quint?" One of the boys asked.
It was tempting, but I managed to shake my head. There would have
been no escape if they had known what day it was. The Council describes
birthday celebrations as "excessively self-indulgent"
in the City Regulations, but the tradition of getting paralytic
remains. It's one of the few that does. Anyway, I had a sex session
later on and if you're pissed at one of those, you're in deep shit.
"Course he isn't." Roddy the Ox wiped sweat and snot away
with the back of his arm. "He'll be away to the library like
a model arse-licking citizen." Every squad's got a self-appointed
spokesman and I never get on with any of them. So I go to the library
a lot. Not just to broaden my mind. I spend most of the time in
the archives checking up on the people my clients report missing.
"Actually," I said, looking the big man in the eye, "I'm
going to watch the execution." Jaws dropped so quickly that
I checked my flies. "Anybody else coming?"
They stood motionless in their fatigues, turned to stone. Not even
the Ox seemed to fancy gate-crashing a party that's strictly tourists