Double Proof

Martin Stewart

Polygon, £9.99

Although it opens ominously enough – its protagonist appearing from nowhere, sweating and dazed, hands outstretched in front of a police car – there’s a lot of fun to be found in Martin Stewart’s appealing and comedic detective novel.

The Yakuza have taken up residence in Maryhill, amateur sleuth Robbie Gould is zipping about Glasgow in his beleaguered spearmint Fiat trying to rescue a kidnapped teenager while his ex-wife, a Detective Inspector, berates him for “piggybacking” her case and, in a weirdly charming moment, ten kilos of heroin turns up, garnished with the tag “Please look after this smack”.

But to backtrack: in 2012, journalist and former middleweight boxer Robbie Gould went to the police, claiming to know the whereabouts of a missing girl, Amy Porter. He was right, although Amy was tragically dead by the time officers reached her. Gould had deduced her location simply by studying all the available evidence and using his reasoning, but that wasn’t sensational enough for the papers, who dubbed him a “psychic crime-buster”, an albatross that’s hung around his neck ever since. “Getting on people’s tits,” he says, is his true super-power. “And with it comes great responsibility.”


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Eleven years on, he’s living quietly on the west coast, writing novels. But with debts mounting and his agent terminating his contract, Gould gives in to the pleas of the wealthy Imelda Dalziel to find her missing 19-year-old son, Albie, reluctantly donning the mantle of psychic investigator once more. It shouldn’t be too hard, he thinks, as Albie is just a social media influencer who has staged a fake kidnapping to impress other social media influencers. If only it were that simple. The more he finds out, the more the evidence points towards a singular case of whisky.

Imelda and her brother Bertie are heirs to a distilling dynasty which once produced reputedly the finest whisky ever to come out of Scotland: Double Proof. Only 61 bottles existed, and the entire consignment went missing 50 years ago. It’s recently turned up again, and should net the Dalziels £15 million, if it weren’t for the fact that a salvage merchant named Ben Mears claims to have documentation proving they no longer own it.

Stewart has made the leap from writing for children to adults with stylish ease and a hint of a swagger. His creation Robbie Gould is charismatic and irritating in roughly equal amounts, a down-at-heel misfit with enough intelligence, nerve and resourcefulness to actually make it as a private detective, should he ever choose to.

In an undecipherable hand, he scrawls on a scrap of paper the names of the dramatis personae, linking them with arrows which he fervently believes will reveal to him who’s behind the plot and where Albie is being held.

The Herald: Double Proof, by Martin StewartDouble Proof, by Martin Stewart (Image: free)

Once he’s been persuaded to take the case, the initially unenthusiastic Gould is commendably serious about seeing it through, even though it forces him to grapple with two things he knows virtually nothing about: whisky and social media.

Stewart wrings a fair bit of amusement from Gould’s unfamiliarity with the world of TikTok, Instagram and their influencers’ obsession with likes and followers, which, like the rarefied world of the distilling elite, brings him out in snappy, defensive quips. He seems a lot more at home squaring up his boxer’s physique to bent coppers and underworld goons built like walk-in fridges, even if he usually takes a lot more punishment than he dishes out.

More than just a capable debut into the adult market, Double Proof is a solid, confidently-told tale laced with sardonic wit and driven by cat-and-mouse energy.