He did everything for the building but none of them appreciated it
Walter Bain is the self-appointed dictator of the tenement at 13 Oldberry Road in Glasgow’s cosmopolitan west end. For years Walter has striven to impose his family values – stairs must be regularly washed, noise kept down, and wheelie bins moved back and forth at the correct times.
When Walter is found murdered, there are plenty of suspects among his ungrateful neighbours. Comic book dealer Billy Briggs is estranged from his daughter, with his business in ruins, and Tony Miller is jobless and facing eviction, all because of Walter. Henrietta Quayle, bullied and belittled by the dead man, conceals a murderous obsession beneath her timid exterior. And alcoholic solicitor Gus Mackinnon has even more reason to hate Walter than anyone else.
As we look back over the years at the various turbulent relationships between Walter and his neighbours, one thing becomes clear: although only one may be the murderer, none of them will mourn his passing.
Close Quarters is a satirical comedy that takes a gentle swipe at the old sentimental image of Glasgow tenement life by depicting it in a modern setting. I have drawn upon my own experience of living in flats in or near Glasgow for most of my life, but my fictional tenement is located in Glasgow’s west end where I lived for 13 years, a period that included all of the 1980s. Some of my earlier work has been science fiction, or at least has contained a speculative element, but this is not the case with Close Quarters. Those familiar with Glasgow’s west end will know that it already contains a sufficient element of the fantastic, so as to render superfluous any additional, speculative invention on an author’s part. Everything in this book is based upon fact, with perhaps an occasional element of exaggeration to heighten the comic effect.
When seven or more people, or families of people, come to live in the same tenement, they may well have nothing in common apart from the fact that they have bought or rented a flat in the same building. Even when most of them get on well with each other, it is almost statistically certain that there will be at least one awkward character among them. Having said this, I have never actually met anyone quite as bad as Walter Bain. In him all the faults of the awkward neighbour are gathered together and writ large; he is an obsessive who tries to hold his fellow residents to an impossible standard, making enemies of them all in the process.
Although the book is mostly a comedy, there is an occasional serious episode. It is also very loosely framed as a murder mystery. By an outrageous piece of plot manipulation, the only possible suspects for Walter’s murder are the other residents of the building and the factor who manages it. In other words, it is a pastiche of the old-style country house murder mystery, where the suspects are the house guests with the additional possibility that the butler did it. Here the suspects are the other residents of the tenement, with the possibility that the factor did it. The factor is probably the most maligned individual to be associated with tenement life, often with good reason, so maybe his inclusion here will raise a smile.
The cover art is by Dave Hill.
“[Walter Bain is] a classic creation … [It’s McAllister’s] experience of tenements, and his affection for them despite all the drawbacks, that really animates Close Quarters. There will be few city-dwellers who don’t recognise some of their own lives here.” The Herald
“[A] wryly amusing take on a very Glaswegian way of life … “Close Quarters” isn’t, oddly, really a crime novel, it’s far more a gentle satire about Glasgow and some of its denizens. The murder of Walter Bain is certainly central to the plot, but finding out who committed the crime turns out to be almost incidental to what follows, and to the considerable enjoyment this book gives the reader.” Undiscovered Scotland
“[A] refreshing and well-written read.” That’s Books and Entertainment
“[W]ritten with a dry sense of humour, Close Quarters has a cosy, farcical, stage-like quality that I really enjoyed. I found it funny and poignant.” Mystery People.