Friday, 9 November 2012

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

I complained last week of having read a run of dud books, but this brilliant debut proved a glorious exception. I picked it up on a whim when passing the recommended titles pile in the local library and was hooked from the off.

Dissolute Glasgow auctioneer Rilke gets a lucky break when he’s offered the contents of a big house for clearance. It’s easy money, the furniture and nick-nacks are of high quality and he’s bound to make a tidy sum in fees. The elderly lady who has hired him is clearing the house for her recently deceased brother. She only asks that Rilke will be discreet. Of course he will...

Up in the old boy’s bedroom Rilke finds a hatch into an attic. With keys for the whole building, he makes his way up the ladder:

I was standing in a long, thin room, perhaps half the length of the house. Bare floorboards, clean for an attic. The ceiling began midway up the walls, angling to a peak. Three small windows that would let in a little light during the day. Along the right-hand wall were racks of metal shelving holding tidily stacked cardboard boxes. The left wall was covered in waist-high, dark oak bookcases, books neatly arranged. In the centre were a plain office desk and a chair, to their left a high-backed armchair, comfortable but scruffy, inherited from some other room, beside it a bottle of malt, Lagavulin. Dead man’s drink. I unscrewed the cap and inhaled a quick scent of iodine and peat which caught the back of my throat. It was the good stuff, right enough. There was no cup so I too the end of my shirt and rubbed it along the mouth of the bottle before taking a good slug.

Rilke has stumbled on an Aladdin’s cave of pornography and erotica. Worth a pretty penny some of it as well, although he’s been sworn to secrecy if he finds anything scandalous. Even so, he gives the drawers and boxes a good going over. He finds a strange card for a ‘camera club’ before realising it’s probably time to knock off for the day:

I considered stopping, almost left right there. It was the whisky that drew me back. One more drink, leave the van in the driveway until morning, last orders at the Melrose, then a walk through the park and see what gave. It was the good stuff. A reward for working so hard, being clever enough to arrange a big deal, a pat on the back from me to me. I should have known myself: that bottle was too full and I was too empty.

His next discovery is a bundle of sexually horrific photographs. Ignoring his better judgement to leave well alone, Rilke decides to investigate, and begins a disturbing journey into Glasgow’s underworld...

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