Glister by John Burnside - review by Amanda Craig

Amanda Craig

Urban Degeneration



Jonathan Cape 255pp £15.99

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, given the current dire state of publishing, that so many literary authors hope that writing crime will help them spin straw into gold. ‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’, as Humbert Humbert pointed out, and in the case of Kate Atkinson or Owen Shears it’s a winning combination.

John Burnside’s Glister promises to be another example. Burnside is a poet whose small body of fiction displays a fascination with violence and the nature of solitary, almost solipsistic consciousness. One novel, The Locust Room, took as its inspiration the Cambridge Rapist of the late 1970s; others, such as The Mercy Boys and The Devil’s Footprints, had male loneliness and accidie as their focus. 

Glister begins promisingly with a policeman discovering the body of a murdered child. Innertown has been poisoned by a decommissioned industrial plant and its sole policeman, Constable Jim Morrison, is pretty certain that the serial killer of five young boys is the powerful developer Brian Smith. He can’t or won’t

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