Review: O Glust i Glust by Llwyd Owen
With this, his fourteenth novel, Llwyd Owen returns once again to Gerddi Hwyan, an imaginary town located in the south Wales of the near future.
You could idle away a happy hour trying to guess exactly where it is from the various co-ordinates named in the book. Maesteg, Porthcawl and Bridgend are all within easy reach and the sea’s not far away, but there are hints of Cardiff suburbia too.
So let’s just say it’s possibly somewhere where the riven gulches of the valleys cut across the coastal plain.
What isn’t within doubt is that there’s a serial killer on the loose. The novel’s title O Glust i Glust (from ear to ear) neatly sums up the stealthy murderer’s modus operandi, slicing his way onto his victim’s last minutes on earth in gouts of blood.
So it’s up to DS Sally Morris to catch whoever it is. Given charge of the case, her first ever such responsibility, it suits her ambitious side.
But when the body count starts piling up it also adds quite crushing pressure to the basic processes of the detective work and to Morris’ sense of her own inadequacy and inexperience.
The killer teasingly leaves a signature item next to each of his victims after he deftly opens up their carotid arteries in a deft and fatal cut.
There is a film clipboard, a sporting armband spelling out the word “Captain” and so on, suggesting that here is someone who ultimately wants to be caught, but not before his or her killing spree is over.
This is someone on a mission.
The hard-to-come-by clues start to point in the direction of the local football club, but bona fide suspects are hard to come by.
There’s a teacher with a reputation as a pervert and a bully. And a nosy neighbour who seems to know a bit too much. But even when Morris and her oppo Dafydd Benson go to question someone who then promptly legs it he turns out to have a rock solid alibi for the night in question.
Frustration breeds and the crime scene officers have so little to work with it suggests they are all up against someone who really know what they are doing – very careful and forensically so.
So Morris and Benson remain frustratingly one step behind the serial killer as a media frenzy foments around them, with journalists playing fast and loose with the facts and certainly not letting them get in the way of a good and lurid story.
After all, Gerddi Hwyan doesn’t often have its own Dennis Nilsen equivalent.
In tandem with this central cat-and-mouse story there’s also the tale of a young girl called Magi, who works the bar at the football club along with her dissolute and drug-dependent mother.
Her family is poor and tensions at home hum like high tensile wire.
Her father, meanwhile, keeps mum about his wife’s staying out late, or sometimes not coming home at all, brooding over her infidelity among his fishing rods and knives in the solitude of his shed.
Were he able to land red herring in this landlocked part of Wales he’d certainly find a few, because Owen gleefully introduces them here and there, keeping the reader guessing and second guessing even as he fleshes out the grim world which Milly inhabits.
Beans on toast suppers. Not enough money for clothes.
She makes a friend, her only friend, only for that relationship to turn sour after they kiss in a confused moment on a night when Milly is attacked in the football club car park.
Life is testing for Milly and then some.
Highly readable and compellingly written, O Glust i Glust is easily one of Llwyd Owen’s most confident and skilfully constructed novels, staying true to the formulaic conventions of noir-tinged police procedurals whilst also invigorating the language in his own way, as he tells his blood-steeped tale with neat touches of invention.
There are neologisms, for instance, such as llofrudd cyfresol for serial killer and cachrestr for shitlist, which is one I suspect he coined himself.
In Sally Morris we have a central figure you side with and want to root for, not least because we know her past includes a darker night than most when she was almost killed on the slopes of Parys Mountain.
Indeed the past isn’t just another country in this novel, it’s a shaping force which has determined so very much about the lives of its various characters, including the murderous, studiedly-determined intent of the shadowy, slinky killer, who leaves no prints or DNA, seeming to move around Gerddi Hwyan, blade in hand, with complete and utter impunity, as if made not of flesh and blood but, rather, of something like Scotch mist.
As with so much fiction like this one of the real pleasures is trying to second guess the identity of the killer before the author’s big reveal and I’ll wager you’d only guess the killer’s true identity correctly completely by accident.
And even then you might be wrong.
Llwyd Owen is a dab hand when it comes to keeping you guessing, looking for your own clues.
O Glust i Glust by Llwyd Owen is published by Y Lolfa.
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