Kidnapping, murder, and worse dog the streets of Glasgow during the annual West End Festival.
Nothing in the early life of Amy Niven, a 19-year-old classics student at Glasgow University, indicated that she’d one day be abducted by aliens. But that’s exactly what’s happened, she tells the police as DCI Colin Anderson (Rat Run, 2016, etc.) listens unbelievingly behind one-way glass. Not only does she stick to her story about the interplanetary visitor with huge dark eyes dressed in black and silver who wanted to dissect her to learn more about how humans worked; she tells exactly the same untroubled story when she’s put under hypnosis. The troubles, Anderson finds, are thickly distributed elsewhere, from Marchmont Terrace, where a 1989 fire claimed several lives and left an even more lethal legacy, to Athole House, a “retirement home for stars of stage and screen” whose current guests, especially opera singer Ilaria Girasole, aka the Duchess, and Deke Kilpatrick, who barely survived the Marchmont blaze, clearly know more than they care to say, even if they could speak coherently. As Anderson’s Cold Case Assessment Team struggles to draw links between the present-day disappearance of straight-arrow math student David Kerr and long-buried traumas, they set their eyes on the unlikely mastermind they’ve dubbed Blondie. Meanwhile, Athole House caregiver Sandra Ryme, who clearly has a troubled history, contemplates her relationship with the Duchess with the patient solicitude of a predatory beast contemplating dinner. The tangled subplots come together in a finale that features the most macabre puppet show you’ve ever seen.
The explanation is less satisfying than the exposition for the same reasons that it’s always a letdown when magicians reveal their secrets. But if you’re looking for a few hours’ reading guaranteed to disturb your dreams, look no further than Ramsay’s imperishably creepy Glasgow.