A Fine House in Trinity – Lesley Kelly
Published by Sandstone Press Ltd
E-book & Paperback – 21 April 2016
I’m delighted to be starting off the blog tour for A Fine House in Trinity with a guest review by Rachel Hall. This is Rachel’s second review for Sandstone Press, you can see her previous review here.
About the book:
Joseph Staines, an unemployed chef, has left Edinburgh with the tallybook of the late debt collector, Isa Stoddart. Her son Lachie thinks Stainsie killed her, but Lachie has apparently committed suicide. To his surprise, Stainsie is the sole beneficiary of Lachie’s will and has inherited a dilapidated mansion. Isa’s debtors and the local priest who paid Stainsie to leave town want him gone. A certain young mum, Marianne (whose uncle, Wheezy, is Stainsie’s drinking buddy) does too, and his old school-friend, Detective Sergeant Jamieson, wants to interrogate him about the deaths. Why are the lawyers lying to him, and who’s the bruiser asking about him down the pub?
Meet Joseph Staines, the original loveable rogue with a twinkle in his eye and a nose for trouble, a man devoid of all willpower when it comes to the lassies and a drop of the hard stuff! Returning to Leith just six weeks after disappearing with a stolen tallybook Staines had planned to be in and out of his home town in twenty-four hours all the while keeping his head down. What changes this is his appointment with Bell Muldoon Solicitors and the news a certain Ms Spencely delivers that he is the sole beneficiary of Lachlan Stoddart’s will. This is news to Stainsie but the added information that the death of Lachie’s much feared mother, Isa Stoddart, settled a considerable sum on Lachie is another surprise. Staines ears prick up when he finds out that this is in form of an partially completed investment conversion of a large Victorian house into a block of flats in York Road. York Road means the Trinity area of Edinburgh, where the serious old-money luxury can be found and suddenly things are looking a whole lot brighter! There is just one little problem, namely that all over the scheme everyone is falling over themselves to give Stainsie’s name to DS Jamieson as the prime suspect behind the demise of Isa Stoddart and the fact that the stolen tallybook was the property of Mrs Stoddart is not making things look good for Stainsie. Returning to Leith, Joseph Staines finds himself with no option but to discover what really happened to Isa and Lachie Stoddart and thereby prove his own innocence in the process.
Firstly, rewind a little and consider who is to blame for the current state of Stainsie’s life. You guessed it, grandfather Joe, if this wasn’t already apparent enough! Whilst Josef Wiśniewski wouldn’t renounce his heritage as a Pole to find accommodation or work, at the first sign of a lassie who took his fancy he was happy to adopt an altogether more English sounding moniker when he became Joseph Staines in 1948. This seemingly insignificant detail thereby sentenced his grandson to a lifetime of Lachie as a best mate due to the virtue of the Staines and Stoddart surnames nestling alongside each other in the alphabet and this explaining the seating position on the very first day of school. Lachie Stoddart, you may ask? Yes, gangsters son with none of the brains or brute force of his elders and with a family behind every racket going on warranting a Polis force in Leith all of their very own!
Interspersed with the details of Stainsie’s days in Leith carrying out his own investigations are snapshots of some of the defining moments of his lifetime which can go some way to explaining his predicament and provide readers with a potted history of the reliably unreliable Joseph Staines. From his first day at school and the unfortunate seating position, through to his marriage and life working as a chef on a cruise ship all the way through to the where he has currently wound up – and he isn’t too proud to admit to the odd mistake along the way. The plot is so tightly constructed and knits together brilliantly and the historical snapshots give readers a real connection with the protagonist and the character of Stansie.
Joseph Staines has all the makings of a noir protagonist; his life is characterised by disorder and his dissatisfaction with where he has found himself is evident in his ‘bear with a sore head’ approach to life. His scepticism of the Polis has become ingrained through his dealings with them and he is no stranger to the culture of turning a blind eye, having grown up in communities where the law is regarded as ‘flexible’. Yet what makes Staines such a great creation is his own personal moral code and the knowledge that whilst he might commit the odd indiscretion along the way he has a limit. Stainsie is a substantial character and I would certainly be amenable to hearing more from him. Kelly has fleshed him out well and through this novel you really get a sense of what makes him tick and feel that you understand his motivations. Wonderfully Lesley Kelly makes her readers care about a man who starts A Fine House in Trinity at odds with the world and emerges through every scrape, bruised and battered, but still with a conscience which overrides everything else.
A Fine House in Trinity is filled with a cast of colourful characters wandering the streets of Leith and it provides a great insight into the varied social demographic that Leith is home to. Kelly has a brilliant eye for characterisation and everyone of her characters makes an impression, some distinctive trait lodging in the minds of readers, most impressively with Wheezy Murphy, DS Danny Jamieson and Father Paul.
Razor sharp Scottish wit is suffused throughout and this makes A Fine House in Trinity a very sweet shot of noir crime fiction. This cleverly constructed romp around Leith will have readers grinning from ear to ear and some of the turns of phrase deserve a standing ovation in themselves. In the hands of Lesley Kelly everything slots neatly into place and It is hard not to find yourself vying for Stainsie every step of the way! A Fine House in Trinity bristles with wit from start to finish, this is a stunning debut from Lesley Kelly.
Now, how about the Freedom of the City for Stainsie?!
About the author
Lesley Kelly has worked in the public and voluntary sectors for the past twenty years, dabbling in poetry and stand-up comedy along the way. She has won a number of writing competitions, including the Scotsman’s Short Story award in 2008. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two sons.