Review of Lies of the Land by Chris Dolan (Vagabond Voices £9.95)

WHEN Procurator Fiscal Maddy Shannon attends a crime scene and finds kenspeckle Glasgow defence lawyer Julian Miller shot in the head, she immediately poses questions her police pal Detective Inspector Coulter hadn’t thought to ask. Why assume the killer was a man? Why not consider the possibility that a woman followed Miller to his office before dispatching him?

On hearing that Miller’s car had a James Blunt album in the CD player, she suggests that it might be a suicide. Add to this, the fact that Shannon had woken up in bed earlier that day with one of Miller’s employees and we already know several things about her. She’s smarter and funnier than the men in the male-dominated world she inhabits and she lives a life less ordinary.

Miller’s wife, as it turns out, has been conducting an affair with his law partner. The two ageing lovers are discovered snogging in Glasgow Botanic Gardens during one of Maddy’s guilt-driven jogging forays. Before too long the law partner and other male associates of Miller are dying and the killer is leaving guns and bullets lying around for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

In fact, very little is obvious to Glasgow’s finest, their reputation not helped by the fact that the guns and bullets belonged to them before being purloined by persons unknown. Compared to Maddy, they are a colourless lot ranging from Coulter, who relies on her help, to a male subordinate who resents it. Later there’s a judge whose love of the bagpipes and the guid Scots tongue flirts with caricature. Eventually, Maddy assumes a kind of Jane Bond role: responsible for solving the mystery and in charge of the action sequences as well.

This is versatile Scottish writer Chris Dolan’s second crime novel – the first, Potter’s Field, also featured Maddy Shannon. It’s fair to say it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it. The action moves at a decent clip and contains some neat surprises. For those familiar with Glasgow, location recognition adds another layer of colour. The protagonists dance across the Dear Green Place to a Blue Nile soundtrack.

Dolan resists the temptation to over-explain his city, which risks some head-scratching among those who don’t understand why the Centre for the Contemporary Arts is a good place to meet if you are avoiding off-duty police officers or what kind of person attends lunchtime plays at the Oran Mor. Occasionally, the narrative works the other way with some inner monologues containing routine observations about the decline of the Labour Party in Scotland or the independence referendum; as if it suddenly dawned on the characters that not everyone knows this stuff already.

There can’t be many niches left in Tartan Noir but Dolan has found one. The strongest and most interesting personalities after Maddy are also women – two environmental activists from the east end. Gallus females dragging dullard males around Glasgow while trying to point them in the right direction may even be a metaphor for our times.