Book Review for “The Second Cut” by Louise Welsh.
Summary: “Auctioneer Rilke has been trying to stay out of trouble, keeping his life more or less respectable. Business has been slow at Bowery Auctions, so when an old friend, Jojo, gives Rilke a tip-off for a house clearance, life seems to be looking up. The next day Jojo washes up dead. Jojo liked Grindr hook-ups and recreational drugs – is that the reason the police won’t investigate? And if Rilke doesn’t find out what happened to Jojo, who will? Thrilling and atmospheric, The Second Cut delves into the dark side of twenty-first century Glasgow. Twenty years on from his appearance in The Cutting Room, Rilke is still walking a moral tightrope between good and bad, saint and sinner.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Crime, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, England – Glasgow, Scotland; Other Categories: Novel, Sequel, Murder, Mystery, Diverse Authors, LGBTQIA+, #OwnVoices.
Way back in 2009, I read and reviewed “The Cutting Room” by Louise Welsh (although it only appeared on my blog in 2014), and that was when I was introduced to the term “snuff-porn” which is… er… not very nice; but apparently, it is as exactly as unpleasant and kinky as it sounds. In that book, we also get to know Rilke, and his (mostly unsavory) proclivities for less than amorous encounters with mostly random men. Well, it has been over 20 years since that book was released (in 1999), and Welsh decided to resurrect him for this sequel novel. Yes, I know that neither crime fiction nor noir murder mystery books are my usual fare, but Welsh writes so compellingly that I had to ask for the ARC when I saw it available on NetGalley.
What I found here was that today, 20 years on, Rilke can find hook-ups via Grindr rather than by wandering the sordid streets of Glasgow’s more seedy parts of the city. While that seems a bit safer, Rilke is never one to stay totally out of trouble, and he doesn’t seem to be overly avoiding Covid, either. But that was neither here nor there. This very twisty plot involving his auction house, an estate sale, the seemingly untimely death of his (erstwhile) friend, and an underworld kingpin who forces others into doing his dirty work, becomes increasingly captivating as the story unfolds. Thankfully, while Welsh does give us some fairly distasteful scenes along the way, she stops well short of graphic sexual encounters to keep even this prudish reader turning to the next page.
Looking back on my review of the first book, I see that there were quite a few things about that novel that didn’t work for me all that well. Obviously, I didn’t recall all that when I asked for the ARC, because 20+ years later, I only remembered that I had enjoyed the book, despite its dark undertones. The Rilke of my memory was more self-debasing than today’s Rilke, and from that book, I wasn’t sure he’d survive another 20 years. Apparently, he cleaned himself up a bit over the past years, but he still isn’t the dashing, leading man you might expect as a classic protagonist. But that’s what I like about these books – the fact that our main character isn’t totally likeable, and yet he has a way of getting to us, and we forgive him many of his trespasses – although not all of them, of course. Despite that, we get caught up in his flaws, and are rooting for him to not only solve the mystery, but to stay alive until the end of the novel.
Welsh’s style hasn’t faltered in this book, and the first-person narrative helps us become more sympathetic to Rilke. The atmosphere of this novel is heavy and highly prevalent, even when the sun is shining (which apparently doesn’t happen much in Glasgow). Once again, I was impressed with how Welsh shows us the more shadowy corners of this city, and once again, I thought that if I ever get back to Scotland, I might decide to avoid this city on my itinerary. That’s not actually fair to Glasgow, to be honest, since I do recall that my one short visit there was quite pleasant. So, while Welsh might make Glasgow sound dirty and unappealing, that shouldn’t put us off the city altogether.
In any case, to answer the question in the title of this review, I think this book really was deeper than the previous one. Furthermore, Welsh includes just enough backstory information here that it could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Mind you, Welsh also includes quite a few Scottish and/or current UK pop culture references that I didn’t get, so that might detract from your reading of this story (I’m sure her fans will get all of them, though). Despite that, it’s still a very good page-turner, and I’m going to warmly recommend it, with a healthy four and a half stars out of five (that’s one full star more than the first book).
Cannongate released “The Second Cut” by Louise Welsh on January 27, 2022 (or May 3, 2022 in the US). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo (US eBooks, Canada eBooks, and Australia eBooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#5).