A debut crime novel with aspirations, featuring a quintessential flawed hero, a smart and morally ambivalent gay Glaswegian auctioneer.
Rilke’s fixations are far from noble when he first enters the McKindless place, a gloomy townhouse complete with a sharp-eyed spinster seeking a quick sale of her just-deceased brother’s belongings. Rilke’s auction house, long-established in Glasgow but a good deal seedier than Sotheby’s, hasn’t seen quality of the kind he’s being offered in a generation, so he swallows his questions and proceeds with business. While going through the brother’s private office in the attic, at the spinster’s request, Rilke finds an envelope full of pornographic photos featuring the deceased, decades younger, but Rilke’s blood congeals at the sight of some of them, since they seem to depict real torture and worse. He opens an investigation of his own—after being picked up in a police raid of a gay hotspot and saved by an old chum on the force, only to help another old chum, now a drug dealer, move his stash to a more secure location after he’s been raided. The search takes him to a porno-film producer, then to a would-be actress running a private peepshow; the deeper in Rilke gets, the more repulsed and fascinated. Even after the actress reveals that McKindless had engaged her for a necrophilia photo shoot, and suggested “cutting” her, Rilke still doesn’t take what he knows to his friend the policeman. Something keeps him digging until a brush with death, more tangible evidence of McKindless’s evil deeds, and action from beyond the grave threaten to bring the unspeakable horrors of the past to life again.
Strange amorous encounters underscore the dissolute Rilke’s appeal, but the reasons for his dogged sleuthing remain a mystery, making him a shadowy figure as frustrating as he is fascinating to observe.