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Book Review: The Glasgow Dragon byDes Dillon

reviewed by anna battista

The first thing you get taught at a creative writing course is to write about what you know, but after reading Des Dillonís latest book The Glasgow Dragon, you will often wonder if this principle is actually put into practice by writers themselves. The plot of Dillonís new novel revolves around Christie Devlin who is trying to expand his drug dealing business by making agreements with Glasgow based Chinese triad gangs, while planning to move out of the town and into the country with his wife Wendy and daughter Nicole. For a short while everything seems to be fine, the Chinese triads have plenty of excellent quality drugs available and Devlin has also found the idyllic house for his family. But soon, the situation drastically changes: a mysterious local drug dealer who goes under the name of Garrett keeps on haunting physically and mentally Devlinís life; Devlin starts drinking again; his 15-year-old daughter Nicole, who studies in a posh boarding school, turns into an amateurish drug dealer, with a little help from her new boyfriend Gerry; Wendy falls pregnant while the life of the pupils at the school where she teaches is slowly but relentlessly invaded by drugs. As the readers approach the end of the book, they realise (between an AA meeting and a kung fu class, a murder and various meat clavers chopping up random fingers) that Garrett represents for Devlin the past and a particular tragic event that happened many years before and that irrevocably changed both their lives. The war between rival forces, between the Chinese triads, Devlin and Garrett, mirrors the war which is going on inside Christieís mind, between being sober and being drunk, being good and being evil.

Scottish poet, short story writer, novelist and dramatist Dillonís first novel, Me and My Gal (1995), was a portrayal of childhood and friendship set in Coatbridge, that was shortlisted for the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award and won him the 2003 World Book Day ĎWe Are What We Readí poll for the novel that best describes Scotland today. More novels followed after that first one, most of them characterised by Dillonís style and narrative, melancholic and delicate, but also funny and ironic. Yet The Glasgow Dragon is a crime story that seems to be miles away from Dillonís previous works: his Glasgow is a fictional town peopled by gangsters, triads, junkies and killers, where there isnít any space for good feelings, but only for action, shootings and killings, a town that makes you wonder how much does Dillon actually know about all Chinese triads and drug barons he writes about.

Dillon uses in his latest novel his trademark style made of onomatopoeia, block capitals and words with extended vowels, expedients that worked quite well with his previous books, but that contribute in this case to make the narration slow and a bit boring. If you feel disappointed by this book, donít despair about Dillon: chances are that there will be out soon a new exciting collection of his stories. He will perhaps be again at his best then.


Issue 28, November 2004

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