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January crime question – my Favourite book – Douglas Skelton

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Douglas Skelton is an established true crime author, penning eleven books including Glasgow’s Black Heart, Frightener and Indian Peter. He has appeared on a variety of documentaries and news programmes as an expert on Glasgow crime, most recently in the Glasgow programme of  ‘Gangs of Britain’ with Martin and Gary Kemp. His 2005 book Indian Peter was later adapted for a BBC Scotland radio documentary which he presented. His book Frightener, co-written with Lisa Brownlie,  was instrumental in cleaning the names of two men wrongly imprisoned for mass murder and is currently being developed as a feature film. Blood City is his first foray into fiction.

My favourite book actually varies, depending on what comes into my head at the time. I have so many – Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, William Goldman’s Temple of Gold. However, I’m going for a western, Jack Schaefer’s ‘Shane’. I think, out of all my favourites, it’s the one that influences me the most. Although I don’t read them these day, I read vast numbers as a youth – JT Edson, Louis L’Amour, the Larry and Stretch westerns written under various pseudonyms by an Australian, Leonard Meares. I was introduced to ‘Shane’ at school. Seemed a strange thing, a western that was accepted into the curriculum, but I was glad it was. I loved it immediately. I’d been aware of it prior to that but only through a short-lived TV series with David Carradine. At that point I’d never seen the film with Alan Ladd, which is now one of my all-time favourites. But I was totally enthralled by the book. This idea of the man who has obviously done some bad things in his past, who wants to change his ways but finds that he cannot fully shake off his past, stuck with me. I saw echoes of it in other genres, notably ‘Callan’ on TV (another favourite). And, of course, elements have crept into my own novels. It is packed with many memorable scenes – Shane and the farmer struggling to clear the tree stump, the bar room fight, Shane telling the young boy who idolises him, ‘A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool ……A gun is as good – and as bad – as the man who carries it.’ Okay, it’s a rallying cry for the NRA but it’s a western! But I think my favourite scene is when Shane stops the farmer, Joe Starrett, from going to town to face the ranchers and Wilson, the hired gun. He knows that Starrett can’t possibly win but Shane, with the gun he’s been trying so hard to forget, can. He knows there’s no getting away from what he is. He’s a gunman, a killer, and the only way these farmers can hope to live a peaceful life is if he reverts to type. So he puts on the weapon he’d wrapped up and stored early on, (“They were part of him, part of the man, of the full sum of the integrate force that was Shane”) knocks Joe out, and rides into town for the final showdown. The book, and the film, are incredibly influential throughout the western genre and, as I’ve said, echoing in others. Clint Eastwood’s ‘Pale Rider’ is practically a remake while ‘Unforgiven’ drips with Shane’s view that ‘there’s no going back from a killing. Right or wrong the bad sticks and there’s no going back.’

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