Talk about the return of the repressed.
In Johnston's futuristic Edinburgh—a scary amalgam of Plato's laws, 1984's soulless dystopia, and newspaper reports from Mafiya-ridden post-Soviet Russia—everything's perfect, and everything's perfectly dreadful. It's only natural that Roddie Aitken, the deliveryman who complains to ex-guard/private eye Quintilian Dalrymple in the closing hours of 2021 that he's being followed by a mysterious stalker in a hooded coat, should be killed before Quint can get back to him. But the manner of Roddie's death—he's been tied, tortured, and mutilated, then had a cassette recording of a beloved (and outlawed) blues tune inserted you don't want to know where—is a potentially damaging scandal to the smiling state apparatus, still represented for Quint by his highly placed late mother. All too soon, Roddie has company in the morgue: two corrupt functionaries whose corpses are as unlovely as his, and the retired head of science and energy, who tumbled down a steep flight of stairs just after Quint heard him making outraged noises about "the bone yard." And Quint's search for the killer, in which he's joined by his official sidekick Davie and his strung-out ex-lover Katharine Kirkwood (Body Politic, 1999), swiftly reveals the dramatic, though actually pretty recondite, divisions between the monstrous druglords who toil in the bone yard and the still more monstrous guardians of the commonweal who quote Socrates as they oppress, deceive, and defraud the good citizens of Edinburgh.
Despite his relentlessly strained similes and the overgalvanized plot he recounts, Quint never goes over the top: he was born over the top.