The Blade Artist

Book Review

The Blade Artist   by Irvine Welsh

Begbie’s back! Fans of Trainspotting will be all too familiar with the psychopathic Scotsman who starred in both book and movie of the same name. The Blade Artist is Franco Begbie’s story.

James Francis Begbie has moved from Edinburgh to California, where he has reinvented himself as an artist, and a highly successful one at that. These days he is just Jim Francis, creator of bespoke pieces of macabre sculpture, and a family man who carries just a slight Scottish lilt.

His beautiful wife, Melanie, first met Jim in a Scottish prison where he resided on a conviction of manslaughter. The future Mrs Francis was an art therapist in Scotland on an exchange programme. Frank Begbie was a hardened and extremely violent offender with a talent for sculpting. The attraction was immediate. After their move Stateside, the couple set up home close to the Pacific Ocean with their two young daughters, Grace and Eve. Begbie appeared to have gone forever. Jim has taken his place. Or has he? After all, forever is a long time.

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*** Spoiler alert ***

During a family excursion to the beach, the family are accosted by two criminal thugs. Jim takes his family home, thus avoiding confrontation and ignoring his natural instincts. However, he succumbs and leaves shortly after, later admitting to his wife that he torched the truck belonging to the scumbags. But is that all that Jim did?

After Jim Francis receives a call from Scotland, notifying him of a violent death in the family, he flies home to Edinburgh where his old life awaits. Circumstances and an inherent desire for retribution conspire to drag Jim back into the life. Extreme violence abounds. Jim is forced into hibernation as the sociopathic Begbie re-emerges from his chrysalis of domesticity. He is refreshed, reminded and remembered.

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What follows is a story of schemes and screams, as we come to understand who exactly Begbie is and how he was shaped into the psychopathic killer he became. Old rivalries soon rise their ugly heads. Old loyalties are severely tested. Old habits refuse to die.

The Blade Artist is an examination of the mind of a somewhat reformed lunatic. It is Scotland’s literary equivalent to American Psycho, but this book is better. Irvine Welsh does provide dialogue in the strong and sometimes hard to decipher Edinburgh brogue. But it’s not constant and is mostly straightforward, yet may require a little patience for those not familiar with Scottish colloquialisms and pronunciations. It’s worth it though, just to get a true sense of the gritty reality of working class life in Scotland’s capital.

I won’t give the plot away. I will tell you that there is violence galore and enough twists and turns to make a jet-fighter pilot puke into his lap. The pace is relentless, as fate launches devilish ploys to unleash Begbie’s full fury. It is also harrowing in places. Begbie does not emerge as some admirable anti-hero. Instead, the author has given us the multi-faceted man, and we must then decide upon our perception of him and his actions. I respect this approach. It forces the reader to question their own morality and depth.

Begbie is a complex but entertaining character. Many of us will have met a Begbie or two during our lives. Hopefully everyone has escaped unscathed from such encounters, but perhaps not. If you haven’t met a Begbie then that’s probably because you are a Begbie. If that’s so, then can I take this opportunity to wish you a nice day and remark upon how well you look (but not in any gay way that night offend you…).

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Anyhoo, for fans of Trainspotting this book is an absolute must. You will love it. For fans of Scotland, I refer you to my previous remark. For those who enjoy a high octane, earthy thriller with no pretensions, then The Blade Artist should make it to your book shelf.

I expect there to be additional parts to this story. The ending gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what might be on the way. We have had Porno, now we get The Blade Artist. I wonder just what could be hurtling down the Scottish tracks at us? I want more.

If Begbie doesn’t appear on the walls of thousands of student dorms and their t-shirts, then I will eat Trump’s hair, or whatever that is that sits perched upon his orange head. I would like to introduce the Donald (whose mother was Scottish) to Edinburgh’s number one violent son. World Peace would surely ensue, although the political broadcasts might get a bit racy. Let’s hear it now, Begbie for the UN!

Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Highly recommended for all lovers of a good yarn.