‘She said the longer she thought about it the more she realised she knew some kind, decent people, and she should be grateful for that.’

BooksfromScotland love a bit of noir, and it’s usually the femme-fatale or the care-worn detective that most noir stories revolve around. Spare a thought for the ‘Muscle’ – they’ll maybe get a throwaway line but, generally, they’re in the background looking tough. Alan Trotter’s debut novel gives these hard men a voice, an inner life, and they might just break your heart as well as your bones. We hope you enjoy this extract.


Extract taken from Muscle
By Alan Trotter
Published by Faber


_____ tried to find us work but he had no plan for going about it. We would set out from _____’s apartment, pursue a circuit, and as we went we’d see a key-cutter or a florist and _____ would make an approach. This didn’t come easily to him. Violence was all we had to offer, and there must have been those who wanted it, but it was too obvious in _____’s pitch, too close. Instead we got no work, and left a trail behind us of confused and intimidated key-cutters and florists and road sweepers, which we’d add to until one or other of us grew tired of the parade. At which point we’d take ourselves to a bar, where _____ would drink beer while I dwelt on what exactly I’d expected from him, and from us.

We repeated this like a circuit on a ghost train where every ghost was an intimidated sweep, key-cutter, spotwelder or meter reader, and repeated it for days, until we hit on what seemed to be some good luck.

First thing that morning we passed a woman on the street, who was not much older than twenty and standing alongside a van maybe twice her age. She was turning a handle that fit into the vehicle’s chest—the whole side of it was open to copper ribs, a device for the production of coffee, and the handle, we found out, was fixed to a grinder.

We bought coffee from her and it was dark and thick in tall mugs. As we drank it, _____ asked the woman if she had any work that needed doing, and maybe because _____ was occupied with his coffee and this altered the impression he made, she didn’t recoil from him, but asked what kind of thing he meant. _____ suggested maybe she was owed some money, or there could be someone who had taken advantage of her one way or another, or perhaps an ex-lover. She said she’d think it over. We drank the hot, heavy coffee.

She said the longer she thought about it the more she realised she knew some kind, decent people, and she should be grateful for that. Because honestly if you asked her would she like to see any of these people have their teeth punched out of them or be made earnestly to fear for their life, then the answer was no. We finished our coffee, gave her back the cups and she reached into the guts of the van to rinse them.

We went on with a feeling, maybe from the coffee, which was good, together with the outlook of the woman, which seemed good too, that we should stick to our circuit and we’d be rewarded. And before two hours had passed we were in the back room of a clockmaker’s, and he was telling us that there was a customer who owed him money and maybe we could get it back for him.


Muscle by Alan Trotter is published by Faber, priced £10.00

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