To the Dogs by Louise Welsh

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Review by Annabel

For Welsh’s ninth novel, she stays in Glasgow and it is a thriller, but this is not a third outing for her reluctant crime-solving auctioneer Rilke (cf: The Second Cut). To the Dogs is a standalone straddling two very different worlds which have more in common than you’d think.

Jim Brennan is ambitious, he has a high-powered job as Vice-Chancellor of the university and is tipped for the top job soon. He spends much of his time fund-raising and getting sponsorship, an important part of life in management. He’s married to a successful architect, Maggie. Of his children, it’s the oldest, Eliot, that causes him the problems, and as the novel opens, he’s returning home from a graduation ceremony in Beijing to deal with Eliot who has been arrested on a drugs charge. He may get time – this time.

Jim’s beginnings were not so lofty. His late father was well-connected and feared in the Glasgow underworld. For Jim to take a different path took much courage and distancing, but he doesn’t miss his childhood or his father. Yet on his way back from the police station he’s drawn to The Fusilier, his father’s old boozer, where he bumps into solicitor Eddie; they were at school together. Jetlag combined with beer hits hard and one of Eddie’s boys gets him home and he wakes with a helluva hangover to find Maggie’s engaged Eddie, although he’d been unsure about the convenience of their meeting.

Jim still has to carry on with his day job though, schmoozing potential donors. This allows Welsh to go beyond the gangster trope and introduce a social element to the novel, questioning the increasingly grey area of sponsorship and donations and the ethics behind it. One potential donor who would have a new wing named after him is suspect and Jim is under pressure to get it all signed before the Dean retires, although not all the university professors agree. Added to that is a side plot involving a missing Chinese student whom the Beijing Institute are asking for help to locate.

It’s soon going to get even more difficult for Jim, once he learns that Eliot owes someone big time and that his life is in danger inside if the debt isn’t repaid, drawing Jim with Eddie back into his father’s old world. All this allows Welsh to tread a fine line with Jim, who is forced to do things he shouldn’t. We want him to come out on top because underneath he’s not a bad man, but even a good man may have to do things they shouldn’t for those they love … or should they?

Another superb thriller from Welsh; To the Dogs has pace, her trademark darkness and humour and a thought-provoking social side contrasting white-collar with blue-collar crime, which raised it above standard gangster fare.

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Annabel is a co-founder of Shiny and one of its editors.

Louise Welsh, To the Dogs (Canongate, 2024). 978-1838859817, 352pp., hardback

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  1. I’m a Welsh fan so I’m happy to hear that you liked it.

  2. I love her writing but I don’t think I can handle such dark, brooding novels like this one right now.

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