The Second Cut by Louise Welsh

Not having been able to visit my home country of Scotland for the last couple of years, I find myself reading a lot more books either by Scottish writers or set in Scotland. The Second Cut is the follow up to The Cutting Room, which was published over twenty years ago. They both feature the same main character, an auctioneer called Rilke, who is a gay man living in Glasgow. Because I read both books recently, it is very obvious how some things have changed for the better, but the situation is not perfect and still has a long way to go.

Rilke meets his friend Jojo at a wedding, where he passes on a tip about a house clearance in the Borders that would be financially beneficial to the firm Rilke works for, but the next day Jojo is dead. Ballantyne House proves to be a treasure trove, but all is not as it first appears.

Told in the first person from Rilke’s point of view, this story depicts a Glasgow that is so familiar and, at the same time, unknown to me; the city is almost a character in its own right. Suffused with dark humour and witty dialogue, The Second Cut is well written and expertly plotted by a writer at the top of her game. It exposes the seedy underbelly of the city – people trafficking, a new and highly dangerous drug, gay orgies, vicious gangsters – and is not for those of a sensitive disposition.

Rilke is a fascinating character and has matured in the intervening years; he is still cynical and streetwise, but not nearly so self-destructive. He is constantly walking a fine line between right and wrong, even if if gets him into trouble. The Second Cut is one of my favourite books this year so far. I have no idea if Louise Welsh is planning to write any more about Rilke, but I would definitely be up for reading it. Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.