Ed James writes crime-fiction novels across multiple series.
His Scott Cullen series follows the career of a young Edinburgh Detective investigating crimes from the bottom rung of the career ladder he’s desperate to climb.
The spin-off Craig Hunter series focuses on an ex-soldier who is now a cop and how overcomes his PTSD.
Putting Dundee on the tartan noir map, the DS Vicky Dodds books star a driven female detective struggling to combine her complex home life with a complex caseload.
Set four hundred miles south on the gritty streets of East London, his DI Fenchurch series features a detective with little to lose.
His next series takes place thousands of miles west, with FBI Special Agent Max Carter investigating child abductions in Seattle and the US Pacific Northwest.
Formerly an IT project manager, Ed began writing on planes, trains and automobiles to fill his weekly commute to London. He now writes full-time and lives in the Scottish Borders, with his girlfriend and a menagerie of rescued animals.
News at last!
SNARED, my Dundee-based police procedural starring DS Vicky Dodds, has found a home with Thomas & Mercer, part of Amazon Publishing. This took a wee while to get going but we finally signed the contract in August, did the editing between September and December and now it’s ready to pre-order. That’s pretty fast for a publisher.
It’ll be out 28-Apr-2015, priced £3.99 for the ebook and £8.99 for the paperback. The ebook is available for pre-order on Amazon NOW (the paperback will also be available through other retailers) –
It’s the best thing I’ve done (in my opinion), building on all the Cullen novels and doing something extra with that. And with a lot less swearing. Vicky was a pretty interesting character to write and seems to be quite well liked by the early readers.
Hope you enjoy it.
I’ve been really bad at blogging last year. Too much writing and editing. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more. So, here we go – I’ll have my review of 2014 coming up later in the week sandwiched with this and some big news (if you’re on the mailing list, you’re going to get it today).
Anyway, my favourite books of 2014… It was a tough year, reading-wise, as I was doing so much writing and self-editing. I couldn’t look at words in July. I just couldn’t process them, but that’s another tale. Anyway, I did manage to love some books, so here’s a list of the top 5 things I did enjoy. As you can see, my tastes are reasonably diverse…
Notable mentions go to Alex Sokoloff (HUNTRESS MOON) and Craig Robertson (RANDOM) [always good when the nice crime writers I meet actually write awesome books, though those books were published a few years ago] and the four Stuart MacBride novels I read this year (one of the very few writers who I can’t find anything I’d edit). Also OLD MAN’S WAR and REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi, which really freshen scifi for me, tight stories rather than tracts of “world building” harking back to the glory days of Philip K Dick, when scifi novels were as long as other novels and not the sort of thing you’d use to prevent entry to your property. I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten about… Oh, Douglas Lindsay’s third DS Hutton novel was a damn good read.
Anyway, the top 5 is as follows –
5 John Scalzi LOCK IN
I’ll be honest and say this has possibly the worst opening in a book I’ve ever read. Well, that I didn’t give up on. That it’s on this list should show something… One of my favourite TV shows of the year was the sadly cancelled ALMOST HUMAN, and this filled that void – a future police procedural. The buddy cop pairing of the seasoned female cop and the avatar of the locked-in male officer gave a new take on the dynamics and showed a plausible world, rather than dumped forty pages of tell about it. Really enjoyable. After that first chapter.
4 Joe Abercrombie HALF A KING
I have an uneasy relationship with fantasy novels. The works of JRR Tolkien really left me cold – I took about six goes to get past the nonsense with the dwarves in THE HOBBIT and the tedium of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in book form makes the films seem that bit better (yeah, shove it) – and I’ve never really got into the genre, aside from some China Mieville and Michael Moorcock. This book was my entry point – focused and immediate storytelling from the start, the world of the SHATTERED SEA shown rather than told. This is aimed at a young adult audience, so it’s maybe a bit light and relies on too many coincidences, maybe, but it’s certainly hooked me on his work. I’ve spent the first couple of weeks of 2014 getting stuck right into his earlier (and better) works.
3 Eva Dolan LONG WAY HOME
I write police procedurals for a living. It’s hard to read them without either 1) wanting to edit the hell out of them, 2) picking at the research errors or 3) not ripping them off. Ahem. This is one of those books that came out of nowhere and just blew me away. Very modern, and reflecting the racist hell England is in danger of becoming. Not afraid to tackle big issues and her style is electric when writing immediate scenes, a masterclass in letting the reader sense the book.
2 Gerard Brennan UNDERCOVER
I started this not expecting much but it soon gripped me from the sheer pace of the start. A tight tale of kidnapping and greed, Brennan doesn’t try anything flashy, just delivers a solid tale and does it well. Vivid characters, sharp dialogue and action I could be more than bothered to follow (I usually skip action scenes). It gives a fresh spin on Belfast, the Troubles only a looming menace to its gangland children. (Note – this is published by Blasted Heath, co-run by my agent, but I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest.)
1 Nic Pizzolatto GALVESTON
TRUE DETECTIVE was the TV highlight for me this year, that rare show we’d catch as near to live as to be able to fast forward through the adverts. GALVESTON is what the show’s writer did before, a noir so dark it sucks all light in. I read this in one sitting on the train to London in March when I was in the middle of the editing slog, having done a full redraft of FIRE IN THE BLOOD, and it’s testament to the quality that it dragged me put of my funk and made me focus on just reading. Incredible.
I’m trying to read a lot more this year, so maybe I’ll get up to a top ten…
Just got a note from Amazon saying I’m October’s 14th most borrowed author in the UK – get a nice wee drop of cash for it. Many thanks to any Kindle Unlimited users who’ve borrowed the books.
(In other news, I’m beavering away on other projects ahead of shutting down body and mind for Christmas – I’ll do some more enbloggening soon)
So, that’s the editing done for WINDCHILL now. The book is now uploaded and firing through the Amazon pipes – for some reason, they want ten days grace (previously it’s been 12 hours or so).
Been a bit of an ordeal this one – as ever, I underestimated the amount of work involved, but we definitely got there. My poor editor, Rhona, has been tearing her hair out and sighing as much as one of my early drafts.
I’d like to thank everyone who’s bought the book ahead of any reviews – the sheer number is mind bending. Given this is my day job, it really helps quell the pre-release jitters.
This has been an experiment with the ability to pre-order – Amazon let me trial it in April when I didn’t have any books due for release before they pushed it out to every KDP user. I’ll blog about my experiences once the bugger’s out.
Oh, and Crime Fiction Lover have it on their radar of new releases. One of my very favourite review sites.
And here’s something for you, the first chapter –
He tried to keep in the shadows as Steven opened the front door. Blinking, he stepped back as the taxi swept past the house before it trundled up the hill, headlights illuminating the wet street. He waited for it to pass and the dim glow of the street lights to return. “Can you not hurry up?”
A man passed them on the opposite side of the street, coat tucked tight against the rain, looking overweight. Had he seen them? His breath quickened.
“Got it.” Steven fumbled with the front door, finally nudging it open. “Sorry about that. Too much to drink, obviously. Come on in.”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
Steven looked down at the cream carpet in the long hall. “Can you at least take off your shoes?”
“No.” He smiled before walking through to the living room, flicking on the mother and child light by the sofa, but remained standing. “I’m fine as I am.”
Still standing in the hall, Steven reached down to untie his own laces. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Now that would be good.”
Steven marched across the wide room, switching a side light on. He paused in front of an oak cabinet behind a leather recliner, like he was going to say something, before pulling down the horizontal cabinet door, revealing a sizeable collection of spirits bottles. His hand hovered over them before settling on a whisky, black label embossed with silver. He sniffed it then poured healthy measures into a pair of glasses. “Here you go. Hope it’s still to your taste.”
Steven took a sip and nodded, eyes staring into space. “Right.”
He took the glass and wandered over to stand just to the left of the window, before sniffing the drink. Pure darkness. “Still think it’s the best whisky in Scotland, Steven?”
“I like it. Get through a bottle every month.”
“That’s a lot of drinking.”
“Helps with the stress. You know how it is.”
“Don’t I just.” He finished the whisky in one, the liquid burning his tongue and throat. Sucking in a mouthful of air, letting it dampen the heat. Bliss. He held the glass up to the light and inspected the lines of the crystal.
Steven finished his dram and put his own glass down, hand shaking. “What is it you want?”
“A chat. One that can’t wait. It’s important.”
“It just is.”
“Come on. You dragged me from the pub to hear whatever it is.”
“You’ll want another drink.”
“Aye, I think so.”
“I’ve had a skinful already.” Steven turned his back and poured out another measure of Dunpender, his head bowed. “Fine.”
He spotted a crystal quaich, Dunpender 100 etched into it, next to another tall bottle matching the design but gold replacing silver. “Nice little trinket you’ve got there.”
Steven ran a finger over it and nodded. “Cost me a pretty penny.”
“Disappointed you’re not opening that one for me.”
Steven sighed as he looked down at his glass. “Like I’ve got anything to celebrate.”
“Quite.” Taking a deep breath, he set the empty glass down on the dark brown window sill. He lashed out, connecting the base of his hand with the back of Steven’s neck, forcing him against the cabinet, fingers clutching at the glass doors. Steven fell forwards, grasping for the hinge as he sprawled across the machined wood flooring, the bottle of Dunpender tumbling and smashing, a pool of gold liquid forming around his prone body.
Stepping forward, he followed through with kicks to Steven’s stomach, head, balls. He kicked the head again. And again.
He knelt down, breathing heavily, fingers crawling up Steven’s throat, clasping the pulse point. His heartbeat was faint.
Still alive. Good.
He dropped the toolbox in the middle of the living room, the trail of oil muddying the bleached wood of the floor, before sifting through the tools inside.
Hammers. Two of them. Which one? The ball-peen for definite, its small head giving precision. The claw hammer was all about brute force. Maybe he’d need both.
He rummaged through the second layer of tools, finding a long cord, the sort used on a drying green. That’s the ticket.
He got to his feet and untied the kitchen cloths on Steven’s wrists, replacing them with the cord, the solid knot at the back of the chair just out of reach.
Breathe. Slowly, deeply. Take your time.
He picked up the glass of water from the coffee table and tipped it over Steven’s head. He didn’t wake up.
He raised the hammer, bringing it down on Steven’s middle finger.
Steven’s eyes shot open. He screamed, a primal roar from the pit of his gut, his gaze darting around the room.
The noise curdled his own stomach. He swallowed, his throat constricted. “So you’re awake then?”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Come on, Steven, you know what I’m doing and why.”
“I can pay you.”
“Can you really?”
“Please, how much do you want?”
“This isn’t about money. At least not to me. No, it’s about the betrayal of trust.” He reached for the pliers, gripping the fingernail on Steven’s left thumb and yanked. The scream turned his stomach anew.
One, two, three…
Two minutes – one hundred and twenty – that’s all he’d allow himself to enjoy his work.
He stayed in the shadows, watching the yellow flickering in the living room and kitchen windows at the back. The briefest smell of charcoal and petrol.
Glancing around the street, he couldn’t see anyone.
One nineteen, one twenty. Time up.
A cough. Somewhere to the left.
He looked around. There – a fat man stood a few doors down, focused on his phone as a small dog ratted around the bushes of the compact front garden, cocking its leg as it sniffed the air. It was the man who’d almost spotted him as Steven made a hash of getting in.
The dog sensed him, its brown eyes locking on, its mouth curling.
He stepped back into the shade. The dog’s bark rattled around the small space.
“Benji, will you bloody quit it?”
One, two, three…
After sixty he peered out, the phone’s backlight illuminating the man’s face, thumbs working at the screen, the dog pulling the lead tight.
He clenched the claw hammer, hoping he wouldn’t have to resort to another murder just to get away.
“Come on, Benji.” The man tugged at the dog and led him inside.
He let out a breath, watching it mist in the cold air, before walking off. He headed for home, his work complete.
He allowed himself another glance at the house, the flames now visible and obvious to anyone who cared to look.
Pre-order the book from Amazon – http://mybook.to/edjameswindchill – £2.99/$4.99/fractions in other currencies. The pre-order price will be maintained for 90+ days.
Morning all – here’s the cover to WINDCHILL, book SIX in the ongoing idiotic adventures of Scott Cullen:
Suitably wintry, right?
Just going through final edits for it just now – I’ve been a bit of an idiot and ended up with two books to edit at the same time; more on SNARED later. Needless to say, what started as a pair of short stories has grown to a monstrous novel, second-longest in the Cullen pantheon. Why do I do this to myself?
WINDCHILL is out on 13-Oct-14 and is currently on pre-release at Amazon. Note the price of £2.99, $4.99 (US) [and some odd fraction in EUR/AUD/CAD/JPY/INR/etc] will be maintained for at least 90 days after release, so it’s not like I’ll suddenly dump the price to 99p. [Oh, and COWBOYS & INDIANS will be book seven, out sometime early next year]
Book blurb –
WINDCHILL covers two cases over the festive period, two stories joined at the hip.
Still reeling from the events of the previous Spring, Detective Constable Scott Cullen’s ambition has almost burnt him out. With his drinking out of control, Cullen’s hopes of promotion are dashed by the shrinking police force and managerial game playing – his only pleasure is the prospect of Christmas spent in front of the TV.
In CHRISTMAS STEPS, when a corpse is found in a burnt down house, Cullen’s Christmas plans are pulled apart as he unpicks the victim’s life just as his own private life is picked apart by his boss, DI Colin Methven.
In WINDCHILL, the murder of a young barman in his Edinburgh flat leads Cullen into the murky world of pubs and bookmakers, while the most likely suspect has a cast-iron alibi.
WINDCHILL is a claustrophobic police procedural novel about dashed friendship, alcohol abuse and trust.
The sixth book in a series of Edinburgh-based police procedurals starring DC Scott Cullen, the first of which which has been compared favourably with Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard and Stuart MacBride.
Not long now.
GHOST IN THE MACHINE (Cullen 1) is now a bargain 79p/99c – myBook.to/edjamesghost
A quick reminder that I’m appearing at Bloody Scotland this Saturday at 10am with Allan Guthrie and Alex Sokoloff.
Alex has blogged about it at her site – she’ll be interrogating Al and I on digital publishing among other things. If you’re an aspiring author – much like I was two years ago when I saw Al at Bloody Scotland – then it’ll hopefully be an inspiring talk.
WINDCHILL (Cullen 6) – pre-order now
UPDATE: It’s live here; http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04fz0wx. 24m30s.
Just a quick note to say I went into the BBC Scotland studios yesterday to record some stuff about self-publishing, crowdfunding for authors and a few other bits and bobs. It should be going out on Radio 4’s PM programme tonight.
In a tribute to the Clash, I even made my own cup of tea while I was waiting. “Do you wanna make tea at the BBC…”
Cullen 6 – WINDCHILL is available for pre-order on Amazon.
£2.99, $4.99 and some odd fraction in EUR/AUD/CAD –
For clarity, this is a novel set at Christmas time and the New Year, told in two parts.
COWBOYS AND INDIANS will be book 7 and hopefully out not too much longer after this little baby.
I get a lot of questions about when this, that or the other thing is coming out. Hugh Howey, the sci-fi author has a widget on his site so I thought I’d add something similar.
The place to keep on top of my release schedule is here –
Current Projects Page
That’s a hell of a lot of books I’m working on. As ever.
If you want to keep on top of these books as I write them, subscribe to my mailing list – monthly-ish update of what’s going on.
I know I’ve been a bit quiet, but my head has been down. Got a lot of projects I’m focused on and this blog has taken a bit of a beating.
Little side note – the revised edition of DYED IN THE WOOL is now available from Amazon. This one took a hell of a beating in the revision process, going from 112,000 to 83,000 words, most of what came out either redundant scenes or words. It flows a lot better. You should be able to get a revised version from your Manage My Kindle page. Again, sorry for not releasing these books on other platforms, but nobody bought them when they were there (the collected edition is available).
Just a quick note to let you know I’ll be appearing at this year’s Bloody Scotland as a presenter as well as a punter –
I’ll be appearing with Allan Guthrie, who’s one of my biggest influences as a writer, and we’ll talking a lot about digital publishing, as well as Cullen and the other mad stuff I’ve got in the pipeline.
I went to the first event two years ago and it was excellent (I couldn’t make it last year what with being a WILLIE and a heavy cold) – there are a lot of things I aim to attend this year.
Also, closer to my home, I’ll be appearing at the Write:On festival in Haddington tomorrow night.
The Cullen books, GHOST IN THE MACHINE free – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ed-James/e/B007UEQTQI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
As most of you will know, last year I was a WILLIE for nine months, WILLIE of course meaning Work In London Live In Edinburgh, and did a hell of a lot of writing while I travelled. I recorded a piece for Radio 4 as part of their ‘Rise of the WILLIEs’ show last month – looks like they’ll even use some of it… Show goes out at 11am –
Was quite a mad time in my life, though my back is still pretty buggered from the experience.
I’ve been experimenting with using multiple sales channels over the last few months.
Previously, I’d found that Amazon was >99% of my sales figures though, curiously, 85% of my free downloads. I wanted to see if that 15% would turn into sales on the other channels. Also, I get occasional posts, tweets and emails about whether I’ll put my books on Kobo/Nook/iBooks/etc.
Well, I tried. Put it this way, having had the books out there for seven weeks now, I’ve realised I sell 2.5 times EVERY DAY on Amazon what I’ve sold in that period across Kobo and Nook. Say what you like about Amazon, they really have created a market for indies like me to exploit and create a career out of.
So, I’m going back all-in with Amazon ‘s KDP Select as of next Wednesday, 07-May. For all those who’ve contacted me asking for the other Cullens on non-Kindle platforms, you’ve got a week to get the books.
In all seriousness, if you read books on your tablet (iPad, Fire, Nook Colour, etc) then I recommend you get the Kindle app for my books. It’s really good. I’d also advise against reading on a tablet – your eyes’ blink reflex is deadened compared with paper or eInk so you get dry eyes. As someone who’s had laser surgery on my ‘een’, I’m acutely aware of how bad my eyes feel when I’ve beasted my iPad for a long period (most recently reading twenty issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA back-to-back on Comixology…) I’m not a professional but speak to your optician if you get pain or dry eyes – don’t mess with your eyesight.
In other news, I’m just about finished Draft 1+ of SNARED, DS Dodds book one. I say 1+ and that means I wrote it last week and I’m firing through it to fix errors and stop things like summary narrative which is something I’m trying to kill in my books.
There’ll be a mailing list entry in the next couple of days, so sign up!
Kind of spooky in the week GHOST hit 666 reviews in the UK, but a few things on CULLEN book two – DEVIL IN THE DETAIL.
If you’ve bought it, you should have received an email from Amazon yesterday saying a revised version was uploaded. This is fact. There’s also a revised version of GHOST IN THE MACHINE uploaded as well.
What sort of revisions? Well, one of the big things I’ve done this year is edit the first two novels so the writing is consistent with the later novels – my style has moved on a lot. With GHOST and DEVIL, I went through them several times and tidied the text up significantly. The changes were read by Rhona, who edited DYED IN THE WOOL and BOTTLENECK, and those two books are now as good as I can make them without starting again from scratch (seriously, don’t tempt me).
The bulk of the changes are stylistic – removing info dumps (bad), heavily-reducing the Scottish patois (no kens, didnaes and all that), cutting Bain’s swearing a bit (he’s still a profane idiot), heavily-reducing the dialogue attribution (I was a bit worried about people getting lost in dialogue, so every line had a said) and tidying up a few bits and pieces. There was a lot of descriptions of roads which really added nothing to the books – I should really write THE ED JAMES GUIDE TO THE SCOTTISH MOTORWAY SYSTEM (INCLUDING DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS AND SIGNIFICANT A-ROADS).
The significant changes to GHOST were the complete rewrite of the first scene and addition of a cold open scene in Pilrig Park, foreshadowing a bit of the ending. Nothing major, really. The word count went from 96,000 to just under 87k.
DEVIL was squashed into two calendar days and I’ve thinned the action on day two out into a third one, adding a nice scene with Sharon McNeill. There’s also a bit of a ticking clock that was in there which I’ve picked out of the mix and made more explicit. At least two of the scenes got really major rewrites. The word count was sliced from 103k to just over 86k and it is a lot slicker for it.
I don’t know if any of your ever have any plans to re-read the books (I think TRAINSPOTTING and THE CROW ROAD are the only novels I’ve read more than once…), then do me a favour and read these ones. Spending that amount of time putting sheen on a free book was a labour of love, really.
In other news, DEVIL is now out on Kobo and Nook. I’m experimenting with non-Amazon channels for the Cullens just now (I’ve had >30,000 GHOST downloads on these two) but I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by sales so far, shall we say. Say what you want about Amazon, their KDP offering for indies like me is second-to-none.
Keep an eye on the mailing list – http://bit.ly/EJMail – to keep up with my release schedule.
Just noticed it’s two years to the day since I first published GHOST IN THE MACHINE. Wow. Hard to believe how much has changed in that time. Serious thanks to everyone who has downloaded it and bought the subsequent escapades in Cullen’s life.
I’ve spent some of this year revising the first two books to make them more consistent stylistically with the rest (and to reduce Bain’s swearing…) and new versions of GHOST and DEVIL are available now. I’m such a dabbler. They may email you telling about it, but if you want to receive the revised version on your Kindle, send them a mail and they’ll give you the new file (looks like they’re going to automate this).
Anyway, thought I’d give an update on where things are – the Mailing List is going to be my primary announcement thing and I’ll start using this place more regularly for more flippant stuff.
Cullen Year One
About a month ago, I released a collected edition of the first four books called CULLEN YEAR ONE. This puts GHOST, DEVIL, FIRE and DYED in one edition for the bargain price of £5.99 or $9.99, saving 25% off the price of buying them individually. It’s a bit of a steal, especially as GHOST is free already. Universal Amazon link – [ http://mybook.to/CYear1 ] It’s on Kobo and Nook too if that’s your thing.
CULLEN 6 – COWBOYS & INDIANS
Had a few searches for the next Cullen book, clearly people who’ve devoured BOTTLENECK already. At the moment, there’s no release date for it. I’ll start doing some work in the next month or so, just to get the plot nailed down along with the novella I’ll do later this year. As per the BOTTLENECK afterword, still no idea when I’ll release it. Things are a bit in flux just now – keep an eye on the Mailing List for further news.
DS DODDS 1 – SNARED
I’m currently going hammer and tongs at the first draft of SNARED and am roughly a third of the way through, having bashed out 33,000 words. Not bad for three days’ work so far… Again, for release information, keep an eye on the Mailing List for news of when this one is going to get released. For those of you who don’t know, this is a new series set in Dundee with a new copper, DS Vicky Dodds. It’s hardcore police procedural all the way, similar in some ways but pretty different to Cullen. I’m enjoying writing it like you wouldn’t believe.
Yeah, not sure what I’m doing with this. CRASH INTO MY ARMS, the intended sequel to SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, is getting de-vampired and will be the next project after SNARED. I’ve got a solid idea for a sequel but the sales on this one have been really quite bad. I learnt a lesson with this one, that’s for sure. I’m going to make it free again to see if that gives it a market sufficient to warrant a book two.
I’ll be sending a new newsletter in the next couple of days – sign up at http://bit.ly/EJMail
Hope you’re all enjoying BOTTLENECK.
I’m not all about Amazon. Mostly, but not all. I’ve put BOTTLENECK on Nook and Kobo right from the off –
Getting some very positive feedback on BOTTLENECK, which is a blessed relief more than anything. Oh, I was on the cover of Monday’s Herald.
To find out about my upcoming releases – sign up to the mailing list. I usually pre-release the book by this means, so it’s the best way of keeping on top of my books.
In other news, I’m just about ready to start the first draft of SNARED, the first DS DODDS mystery.
BOTTLENECK is officially out today on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 and $6.49 (other channels, including paperback and Nook will likely be 31-Mar-14) –
Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link
(other territories live now)
Hope you enjoy it! First chapter is just after the break.
Join my mailing list
Alistair Cameron pushed the body of his guitar against its amplifier sending squalls of feedback coruscating through the room. His free hand reached down and adjusted the controls, making the noise swell. He looked over at Roddie pounding the drum kit and realised the song wasn’t going to end any time soon.
Grinning, he unstrapped the guitar and propped it against the amp before setting to work on his pedal board, fifteen Boss and Fender units interconnected in an array he’d taken months to perfect. He applied a layer of delay before gradually increasing the reverb. On a beat, his right hand slammed down on an overdrive pedal then a distortion two bars later, while his left mimicked a foot and added a wave of wah wah.
Through the noise, he could just about pick up Roddie’s clattering drum pattern signalling the end. He looked over at Gary, head down and noodling away on his bass, keeping some semblance of song together. Their eyes locked. Alistair nodded at Gary then over at Roddie who swept into a long snare roll stretching over four bars. Alistair gradually switched off pedal after pedal before carefully retrieving his guitar just in time to crash in on the final chord.
The sound stopped dead, echoes of the cymbals dying away.
“If there was an audience,” said Gary, “they’d be going mental just now.”
Alistair nodded as he looked around the practice room, four whitewashed walls and a bare ceiling above a concrete floor, the equipment of two bands rammed into the tiny space. “Not long till we have a proper crowd.”
Roddie grinned. “You almost didn’t make the last chord there. One pedal too many.”
Alistair shrugged, trying to affect the cool the singer of a band should have. “I was tempted to put another one on.” He sat down on his amp and flicked it to standby. “Reckon that’s us for tonight?”
“Think so,” said Roddie, before reaching round and tossing a can of beer over to Alistair.
“Cheers.” He inspected it, a cheap supermarket brand. He wasn’t one to turn down free beer, so tentatively opened it, careful not to catch the gush of foam on his clothes, shoes, guitar or pedals. The floor got it instead, another sticky patch that would take weeks to clear.
“That was a good practice,” said Gary.
“Damn right.” Roddie avoided the spray as he opened his can.
“Nice to kick back and relax now,” said Alistair, feeling genuinely spent from the exertions of running through their twenty-five minute set four times, almost eradicating errors.
“Not quite,” said Gary, taking a sip of vodka straight from the bottle.
“Eh?” said Alistair.
“Tonight’s the night,” said Gary, mouth twisting into an evil grin.
Alistair rolled his eyes. “You still on about that?” he said, trying to sound tired.
“Aye, and I won’t stop until you finally do it.” Gary picked up a copy of The List, the Glasgow and Edinburgh what’s-on guide, and showed it to Alistair. “The deal was, I arrange the gig and you go for a wander down there.”
Alistair shook his head. “You’re such a bloody child.” He looked around, desperate for an excuse. “I need a torch.”
Gary grinned again as he took one out of his hoodie pocket. “Here you go. No more excuses.”
“You really want me to do this?” said Alistair, trying to sound grown up, challenging Gary to see the error of his childish ways.
It didn’t work. Gary prodded him in the chest. “A deal’s a deal,” he said, punctuating each word with a poke.
Alistair’s eyes pleaded with Roddie.
“Don’t look at me,” said the drummer. “This is between you pair.” He cracked open another beer before belching.
“Fine,” said Alistair, feeling his blood rise.
Gary turned to a dog-eared page. “Here.”
It was an interview with Expect Delays, the local band made good. Alistair was obsessed with them, almost as much as Gary. Top five singles, a number one album and supporting U2 at Hampden next week. Miles better than playing to the proverbial ‘three blokes and a murderer’ at Bannerman’s, like they would on Sunday.
“What am I supposed to be looking for here?” said Alistair.
Gary’s fat finger pointed to a chunk of interview text. “This bit.”
Alistair read the interview with Neeraj Patel, Expect Delays’ guitarist, talking about the practice room they used as an unsigned band in Edinburgh.
“I know they practised here,” said Alistair. “That’s why we got the room.”
“That’s not it,” said Gary. “Read on.”
“Right, so they went for a wander along an old street under the Old Town? Big deal.”
“Says you can walk for miles under here,” said Gary. “Can’t believe they did that, man. It’s fate. If we do it, maybe we’ll get signed, too.”
“I don’t think it works like that,” said Alistair, sweating despite the cold.
“You’re not going back on our deal, are you?” said Gary.
Alistair tried again with the maturity act, this time folding his arms. He got nowhere. “Right, fuck it,” he said, getting to his feet and snatching the torch from Gary.
“Good man,” said Gary.
Alistair stormed out of the room, swinging the torch by its cord. They were on the second level down and the entrance was on the next, the lowest. He waited with Gary while Roddie locked the door then headed down the stone stairs.
He heard the sound of at least one other band bleeding through the walls. He checked his watch – still another fifty minutes till they had to lock up.
Alistair stopped by the heavy door and turned round. “You coming with me?”
Gary rubbed his hands together. “Of course.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Roddie.
Alistair grimaced before marching on. The lack of whitewash was the only difference between the rehearsal space and the old street.
An old paraffin lantern hanging from a wall reminded him of Mary King’s Close, the sanitised tourist attraction he’d visited with school.
This was different – an ancient road that led off Niddry Street before the buildings of South Bridge sprang up in the nineteenth century. The smell of damp – always present in their room – worsened as they progressed deeper.
They came to a crossroads that opened out slightly. Alistair quickly ascertained two of the paths were bricked up, leaving right as the only option. He shone the torch into the gloom, the beam dying long before it reached a distant wall. The hair on his arms pricked up. He swallowed hard and marched on, trying to recall the exact terms of the deal – he reckoned another hundred footsteps ought to do it, but he didn’t know whether Gary would see it that way.
“What was that?” said Roddie.
“Your burp,” said Alistair, briefly turning round.
“No, I swear I heard something.”
Alistair gritted his teeth and strode on, determined to get it over with. After another fifty or so paces, the path curved hard to the left. He was aware of their breath behind him, loud in the darkness. “This’ll do.”
“Nowhere near enough, mate,” said Gary. “Keep going.”
“Come on, man,” said Alistair.
“Don’t ‘come on, man’ me.” Gary stabbed a finger at his chest. “I say when it’s over, not you.”
Alistair pushed on. After another twenty seconds, he stopped dead and turned to face the others. “I swear I heard something.”
Gary scowled. “Quit it. Roddie’s trick didn’t work on you, so you’re trying it on me now?”
Alistair swivelled back round, the torch dancing on the stone walls. The light bounced off something metallic. “What’s that?”
“Enough,” said Gary.
“I mean it,” said Alistair, pointing down with the torch. “Look. Something’s glinting.”
“Might be some old money or something,” said Roddie. He laughed and spoke in a stupid voice. “Maybe it’s gold. Maybe a treasure chest.”
“I doubt it,” said Gary.
Alistair inched forward, flicking the torch across the ground. As they approached, he saw something long and thin. He stopped and looked closer. A screwdriver. He crept on, training the torch ahead. The light shone on something and he let out a gasp.
A body was propped against the wall.