Paul JohnstonPaul Johnston
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Body Politic
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Body Politic

Extract

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 doors.
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 certainties.
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 only.

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