New ‘Glaswegian noir’ books have roots in real life experience of crime and justice system

ALLAN Nicol can still remember the shock felt across a city rocked by the story of Peter Manuel.

Manuel, responsible for a string of murders was eventually caught and found guilty of seven killings in May, 1958. He was hanged at Barlinnie.

“I remember my parents talking about his trial in the Saltmarket’s North Court,” he says. “They spoke in hushed voices, because it was so shocking.”

Allan, who is from Anniesland, went on to write a book about the devastating case – Manuel: Scotland’s First Serial Killer was published in 2008.

“I have previously written about Archibald Hall, the ‘Monster Butler’, too and I am encouraged by the growing trend towards Glasgow crime being properly explored, be it factual or otherwise,” he explains.

“The city has certainly produced some remarkable crime stories.”

Former Procurator Fiscal Allan, and former criminal lawyer Charles Sharkey have both written books which have been published by Ringwood Publishing, based on their experiences on opposing sides of the Scottish justice system.

The two men appear at a special event at Arlington Baths on Friday at 7pm to talk with a live and online audience about their books and Glasgow crime in fiction and reality.

Allan’s book, Liberation, is a fictionalised retelling of a notorious 1950s murder case, in which a Gorbals police officer killed a local woman while on duty.

Charles P. Sharkey’s debut crime novel, Clutching at Straws is a thrilling and original piece of Glaswegian noir, following detective Frank Dorsey as he investigates a string of mysterious murders linked to rival gangs in the city.

Allan is aware of the painful parallels between the case featured in his book and the recent murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer.

He explains: “I try to stick to the facts, where known. That the murderer was a policeman is bad enough – although unwittingly and sadly topical – but he was married with a young family and a member of the Plymouth Brethren.

“I read the story a while ago then researched it in the Mitchell Library using old newspapers.

“What made it stand out though was that Robertson, the accused, seems to have deliberately ruined his chances of acquittal by refusing to acknowledge he had been having an affair with the murdered woman when he was giving evidence on his own behalf.

“To me, it sounded like something from Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

“His solicitor Laurence Dowdall decided that Robertson’s behaviour in the witness box was designed to save his wife and family from the public shame of it all, which I query, since he regarded himself as one of the ‘elect’ and was going to heaven regardless of what happened in an earthly courtroom.”

Charles has previously written three acclaimed historical novels – Dark Loch, about the effect of the First World War on a Scottish crafting community; The Volunteer, about the Belfast Troubles; and Memoirs of Franz Schreiber, about a young man and his mother in inter-war Berlin.

Clutching at Straws is his first crime novel. Following leads on the old gangs of Glasgow’s past and a new foreign group trying to stake its territory, the central character Dorsey must connect the dots between the murders, an anonymous religious message each victim received, and the gangland rivalries, while also dealing with the rising tensions among his own police department.

As a criminal lawyer in Glasgow for more than 30 years, Charles worked on thousands of cases, including the high profile Fenwick Moors Murder, which was the first Scottish murder case for nearly a hundred years to proceed without the body of the victim ever being found.

Recently featured in Times Past, it was the grim tale of Paul Thorne, a murdered drugs courier whose killers, including gang leader John Paul McFadyen, buried his body on the Fenwick moors in 1988.

Glasgow Times: Killer John Paul McFadyen

Charles was also one of the defending solicitors in the triple murder case infamously named the ‘House of Blood’ in Glasgow’s Crosshill.

“The years of dealing with so many criminal cases have been invaluable to me as a crime writer,” he says.

“I write fiction, but I try to base my stories on what is the gritty reality of serious crime in Glasgow.

“During my time as a defence lawyer I have read thousands of statements, and dealt with numerous identification parades and police interviews.

READ MORE: Glasgow’s Buchanan Street in the 1950s – and the old NAAFI club

“I also studied Forensic Medicine in my Honours year at University, which is another area that is so important to any modern crime story.”

He adds: “Clutching at Straws is a novel that deals with the negative impact of illegal drugs and the misery it causes so many, while the organised crime gangs, who supply the drugs, get rich.”

For both men, Glasgow is a huge influence in their stories.

“I have not only tried to make the Glasgow characters feel real, I have also made a point of making the city of Glasgow a character, “ says Charles.

“I have tried to make the story feel like a real Glasgow crime novel.”

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