Into Robbie’s office one winter’s morning walks Billy Paris, a former client who needs a favour, and as Robbie agrees to help in the hope of getting rid of Billy, we see our hero walk straight into one of those grey areas so beloved of crime fiction. Within a handful of pages, Robbie’s legal practice teeters on the verge of collapse as he is suspended by the Scottish Legal Aid Board. And then for good measure, his personal life takes a turn for the complicated.
As Robbie juggles his cases with his colleague, Joanna, due to the suspension, and tries to find out what the Ministry of Defence police want with the box Billy left for safe-keeping, we enter a world of politicking over spaceport sites, former boy band members, nosy journalists and the difficulties of obtaining a Pyxie Girl doll for Robbie’s daughter, Tina, for Christmas. As the pages turn and more intrigue is piled on, it becomes clear that only one of these problems cannot be solved by a dogged defence lawyer.
There are flaws here – the introduction setting up the family’s history is a lazy tool when the information would have been better drip-fed into the story, and the rape case subplot left me uncomfortable.
But the writing is always sharp, there is dark Scottish humour aplenty and overall Present Tense is a fine yarn. The depiction of the criminal justice system from the perspective of the legal personnel, rather than cops or criminals, is a fresh take for the Tartan Noir scene.