Gutted Interview with Tony Black
Tony Black is at the vanguard of a new wave of exciting Scots crime writers. As the genre begins to indulge private investigators as welcomingly as it does CID stalwarts, Gus Dury is leading the way with his swashbuckling style and unshakable obsession with the truth. Tony’s debut, Paying For It, introduced us to this compelling character, who comes of age in his latest outing, Gutted. And with a third Dury novel, Loss, on the way in the new year, Black is becoming an unstoppable force in Scottish crime fiction.
David Lewis spoke to Tony Black about Gutted and the world of Gus Drury.
Gutted sees Gus Dury drawn into the world of illegal dog fighting - what got you hooked on that subject?
I’ve always been curious about that particular kind of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal that gets a kick out of watching animals in pain; at this stage in human evolution it just shouldn’t be on the radar. But there are still some wrongly wired-up nut-jobs out there that get off on doing this kind of thing and it seems to be almost tolerated; when you look at the sentences that get handed out for animal cruelty they’re pathetic. I know if anyone laid a finger on my dog they’d be wearing their balls as earrings, so I can’t be the only one like that. I wanted to see how things might play if someone took the law into their own hands. Does that sound totally hypocritical? Well, all I can say is dogs are usually a lot nicer than most people...
The book moves at a great pace, is that to do with your writing style, do you go at it hammer and tongs?
I do tend to write the Gus Dury books at a fair clip, but I re-write much slower. It depends on the particular story, sometimes if it’s an action scene or whatever, it’ll dictate a certain pace and other times it doesn’t. I do have a tendency to forget to slow it back down sometimes, though, and that’s one of the things my agent and editor are always pointing out to me as needing fixed before it goes to print.
Your books have studied, as we said, dog fighting and illegal immigration (PFI), what makes crime such a great vehicle to explore wider social issues?
It’s the people on the fringes, and often on edge, that get tested to the extremist limits of endurance. It’s the old ‘you never know how you’ll react in any given situation till you’re forced into it’. Confronting fears and reacting to the evil doings of others brings out some pretty base survival instincts; for a writer, putting characters in those situations creates almost effortless drama.
For the kind of stories that I want to tell, that expose corruption and comment on breakdowns in contemporary society, then the crime genre’s an good fit.
You do realise your vision of Edinburgh won't earn you plaudits from the tourist board...
Yeah, well... fuck, em.
Paying For It was so well received - do you feel under any extra pressure with Gutted?
No, not at all. Though I was a bit surprised at how well received Gutted was received! I got praise from the likes of Andrew Vachss and Nick Stone for that book and it totally blew me away. I did feel a bit of pressure writing the follow up to Gutted, called Loss, but got the shock of my life when my editor liked it even more. Does that mean I’ll be shitting it even more with the fourth one? Oh, gawd...
A new wave of young writers is coming through under the Tartan Noir genre, what do you think it is about Scotland that makes it so fertile for crime writers?
Good question; there’s the usual stock answers like there’s something in the water, we’re all mental and so on but it’s more complicated than that. Scottish crime fiction comes from a completely different place than English, for example, all those carefully constructed drawing-room mysteries of Ms Christie and so on really don’t exist in Scottish crime fiction. We do have a bleaker, darker outlook and the Scots preoccupation with this comes out in things like Jekyll and Hyde and so on. Our writers do like to put the national psyche under the microscope and what they seem to find is perfect fodder for noir. I always think George Douglas Brown's The House with the Green Shutters is a perfect example of this, the Scotland, and the Scots, he holds up to scrutiny are easily identifiable to us... and make us cringe, or should that be wince.
Tartan Noir, is it a genuine concept or just a marketing gimmick?
It’s a label, and I’m not overly fond of labels to be honest but it serves a purpose. For a long time Scotland wasn’t considered capable of producing any crime fiction of note, it was dismissed even. But now we have some extremely highly-regarded practitioners and the industry needed a tag. I guess it helps readers locate some books that they might not have otherwise, but in terms of offering any insight into the works, I’m sure it’s less useful; I often get tagged Tartan Noir but I don’t have much in common with some writers that share the title.
So called "literary establishment" continues to shun crime writers - what they so scared of?
I don’t think they’re necessarily scared of anything, it’s just a widely-practiced piece of snobbery that has been slow to break down. It will though, you see it more and more now with people talking of the likes of Jim Thompson in glowing terms and re-assessing his work. At the end of the day though, I really couldn’t give a shit; I’ve read Booker winners who shouldn’t have been trusted to pen a shopping list, and crime novels that were works of genius. So much of what passes for commentary by the ‘literary establishment’ isn’t even worth the effort to ignore it ... like the whole furore over judges threatening to walk off the Booker because they said Trainspotting was misogynistic... all bollocks.
While crime thrives, police procedurals, despite mass popularity, are almost starting to seem an antiquated form, why is this, can you ever see yourself doing one?
I think the police procedural is in rude health actually, certainly whilst they sell in the numbers that they do there will be no shortage of commissioning editors at the big houses saying ‘me too, me too’. That’s the way this business works and that’s why we have such a proliferation of copy-cat works, not just in fiction, but across the board. It’s a shame because it’s such a blinkered approach that is certain to miss out on the next big thing. People’s tastes change, the zeitgeist (that’s a word the publishing world loves!) shifts but the industry’s too busy copying the last big hitter to pick up on this a lot of the time.
Myself, I have a great deal of difficulty getting into police procedurals - I love them on television - but in print I get a bit turned off by the, er, procedure... the whole canteen culture etc. That said I have read some brilliant ones, I really love Derek Raymond’s Factory series and Rolo Diez’s Tequila Blue was one of my favourite crime novels of late but as for me writing one, I wouldn’t hold your breath... certainly not whilst there’s still some life in Gus Dury’s liver!
- Hardback - Preface
When the gangland owner of a pit bull that killed a toddler is found gutted on Corstorphine Hill, Gus Dury is asked to investigate. He soon finds himself a pawn in the warring underworld of a divided city.
- Add to BasketLoss
- Hardback - Preface
Gus Dury is a changed man. He is off the Edinburgh streets & back with estranged wife, Debs. He has promised her that he won't get involved in any more dodgy cases. Above all, he's off the drink. Then his brother, Michael, is found dead with a bullet in his heart and Gus' life begins to unravel all over again.
- Add to BasketPaying For It
- Paperback - Preface
Gus Dury once had a high-flying career as a journalist and a wife he adored. But now he is living on the edge, a drink away from Edinburgh's down-and-outs, drifting from bar to bar, trying not to sign divorce papers. The road takes an unexpected turn when a friend asks him to investigate the brutal torture and killing of his son.