Cast A Cold Eye by Robbie Morrison

Cast a Cold Eye is Robbie Morrison’s second novel featuring DI Jimmy Dreghorn and DS Archie McDaid of the Special Crime Squad. Set in Glasgow in 1933, with the city fully in the grip of the Depression, a body found on a narrowboat on the Forth and Clyde canal rings alarm bells for the detectives. The victim has been shot in the back of the head, execution style, which is unusual in a city where violence and knife crime are rife, but guns are not. The complicated plot involves criminal gangs and the IRA, and nobody knows what the Special Branch officers are up to, as they are not big fans of sharing information with the detectives.

This atmospheric crime novel portrays the city of Glasgow as a hotbed of sectarian violence, and gives the reader an insight into the history behind it all. Robbie Morrison paints a vivid portrait of Glasgow at this time. I grew up in the area in the 1960s and 1970s, and could still recognise a lot of the places he describes. Make no mistake, this is a very violent story, but the banter between the detectives helps to take the edge off.  

At the heart of this series are the characters of Dreghorn and McDaid. We get a bit more background in this second book, and this helps us to understand them better. Dreghorn is a flawed character, traumatised by what he experienced during WW1. He is no stranger to violence, sometimes makes questionable choices, but this is a nuanced portrayal of a damaged individual who has nothing in his life apart from his job. McDaid, on the other hand, is a devoted family man who can leave his work behind when he goes home. They make a good team – their unorthodox methods certainly get results.

I read a lot of what is termed ‘Tartan Noir’, and Cast a Cold Eye is up there with the best. It stands out because of the excellent characterisation, and the strong sense of time and place. I look forward to reading the next book in this gripping series. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.