The Hanging Shed, By Gordon Ferris

Gripped by Glasgow's mean streets
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The Independent Culture

The Hanging Shed was a massive success even before its print incarnation hit the bookshops.

Kilmarnock-born Ferris's fourth novel became one of the most downloaded books in Britain after release on the Amazon Kindle. The fact that a little-known writer has been rivalling such stellar names as Dan Brown is evidence that the electronic book may be the future of the printed word in the 21st century.

Ironically, this success via hyper-modern means has been granted to what is essentially a traditional piece. The setting is Glasgow in 1946, and the author's delineation of the immediate post-war years has a bristling immediacy.

Ferris finds much to explore in a period when Britain was undergoing tumultuous change – the Empire passing into history, and the country struggling with an austerity that makes the start of the 21st century look like a cornucopia. Social problems are created by demobbed soldiers struggling to find jobs, as women begin to enjoy a taste of independence.

Ferris is particularly sharp on the burgeoning crime of the period, including black market enterprise and violent street gangs. Ferris's tough protagonist, Brodie, is an ex-policeman. His paratrooper's uniform discarded, he finds himself forced to save his childhood friend Shug Donovan from hanging. The latter was in a bomber, shot down over Dresden, and returns to Glasgow in a grimly unrecognisable condition.

Scarred and mutilated, he turns to heroin. Donovan makes everyone around him uncomfortable, and when a local boy is discovered raped and murdered, the drug-addicted loner is the perfect fit for the crime. But Brodie distrusts the mass of evidence that points to Donovan's guilt, and – with the aid of local advocate Samantha Campbell – begins a daunting odyssey through the dangerous backstreets of the Gorbals, obstructed by both bent coppers and murderous razor gangs.

Ferris is a writer of real authority, immersing the reader into his nightmare world with a brand of scabrous writing reminiscent of William McIlvanney's Laidlaw. If the notion of the sparring male/female duo at the centre of The Hanging Shed has a warmed-over quality, everything else speaks of an original voice. The book deserves quite as many readers in its hard-copy form as it has already gleaned in its electronic version.