A new serial killer is on the loose in Glasgow. The media have dubbed him the Cutter for his habit of cutting fingers from his victims. Over many years, six victims have all fallen to him. There are no links between any of them, and they have the police baffled.
Add in a crime reporter with a hunger to make a name for himself, and you have the ingredients for a chilling look at the life of a psychopath. Only, in this case, the teller of the tale is the murderer, the Cutter, telling the reader how they do the things they do but not telling anyone why they do them.
The streets of Glasgow are well-drawn, the seemly underbelly mixing with the well to do Lawyers, of which the first victim is one. Chosen, simply because his business card was in a café, his death is one of swift violence, as are all of the ones that follow. The grotesque nature of their demise a particularly visceral part of the story. Some deaths are public. Some are private. Some are people high up in society, and some are shop workers or fringe members of the criminal fraternity.
However, as the novel reaches its denouement, we realise that they are not as random as they first appeared to be. One of them was the driver of the car that mowed down the Cutter’s daughter. In a twist of authorly cunning, the last one was the crime reporter Keith Imrie, who, instead of collecting the Cutter’s trophies, was found with them by Alec Kirkwood, a dangerous man to get on the wrong side of.
Random is not the most pleasant of books in terms of its subject matter. The Glasgow it inhabits is well-drawn. The characters are all believable. The trauma that the narrator went through does explain some of his actions, and the fact that someone else would take the blame, and be remembered for it, is some form of karmic justice.
Glasgow is as much a character as Edinburgh is for Ian Rankin. The Cutter is the villain. We see things from his point of view, and in a twisted way, we can sympathise with his motives; if not, his methods lifts Random above the usual crime procedural and gives it a unique hook.
Reviewed by Ben Macnair
Published by Simon & Schuster Ltd (1 April 2010)
Paperback, ISBN 978-1847377296