“Deeper than the darkest night and topped by a perfect full moon,” a photographer’s view of a pint of Guinness. Tony Winter is a crime-scene photographer: his job’s to turn up and take photographs where a death or serious injury has occurred, although he also takes photos on a private camera as well as his police-issued one. He’s worked up from taking snaps of car accidents to murder victims, including a drug runner who’s been stabbed. His police colleagues complain about the paperwork but will carry out a professional investigation anyway. Their real worry is that his gang will retaliate or an opposing gang will seize the chance to muscle in on territory not currently theirs. Except that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill gangland killing; a sniper is taking out some key players and the police are aware that they don’t know the full extent of the repercussions. They’re not even sure of the sniper’s motive as the sniper doesn’t seem interested in taking over any of the drugs gangs’ territories and doesn’t seem motivated by money after spectacularly setting fire to bricks of cocaine in a shopping square near the university. The press start dubbing the sniper a “dark angel”, acknowledging the sniper’s working outside the law but also suggesting he’s doing everyone a favour. The implication is that the police haven’t done enough.
Tony Winter is frustrated: he’s both part of the team working on the sniper killings but also separate from it as he’s not officially police. It’s particularly frustrating when one of the police withholding information is a friend of his. Discovering a similarity between a bruising pattern on one of the sniper victims and a beaten up teenager, he decides to keep the information to himself, at least until he can be sure it has significance.
Meanwhile, his detective sergeant sort-of-girlfriend, Rachel Narey, is also frustrated. She’s been shunted sideways into a case involving a murdered prostitute to free up her inspector to work on the sniper killings. Her first problem is identifying the victim. Her second is explaining to her victim’s respectable middle class parents, still baffled as to why the daughter they thought they’d done everything for went missing, how she ended up as a pimp’s drug addicted punch bag.
Then the sniper killings take a vicious turn. Some police are being targeted, the sniper unsubtly labeling them “dirty cops.” Tony’s friend is shot and his girlfriend becomes a target, a point which makes him realise that the bruising pattern is a significant find and it’s too late to tell any of the detectives without getting into trouble for not doing so sooner. Tony turns detective and, like all solo amateurs, puts his own life in danger. Rachel ends up back on the sniper case, but is determined not to let the murdered prostitute slip off the radar.
The tone is recognisably Glaswegian: simultaneously abrasive and defensive. Craig Robertson gets the balance right between occasional phonetic spellings in dialogue to capture the local dialect which don’t hold the reader up with the need for translation. The city becomes a character in the novel, enabling plot twists. This isn’t a polite drawing room mystery but puts guns back in the hands of hoodlums and drug couriers (Raymond Chandler would approve). “Snapshot” also explores the effects of crime on people charged with upholding the law, that shady area between good and evil.
The only quibble I have with “Snapshot” is that while I know what Tony sees in Rachel, I don’t know what Rachel sees in Tony. The appearance of the main female characters is described in detail, usually by a male character in lust. But the same level of detail is not applied to males. Perhaps it’s not occurred to Craig Robertson that some of his readers may be female.