7 Aug 2016

Bute Noir | an investigation | with wine and cake

The Case of Bute Noir

It was a bright and sunny lunchtime when I strolled down to Bute Museum for the inaugural event for Bute Noir. 

I didn't know what to expect: the weekend event had been organised in a rush by one Karen Latto. She was the kind of broad that makes grown men go weak at the knees – capable, efficient and a rabid Liverpool fan: this was one broad not to be messed with.

My case notes showed that she had some kind of hold over crime writer Craig Roberston – I suspected blackmail – but for cash or bags of tablet and a jar of chutney, I wasn't yet sure. It was going to take a whole weekend to get to the bottom of Bute Noir …

The opening event, Craig Robertson was talking Serial Killers with two of his fellow crime-writers – Italian Scouser Luca Veste and Gordon J Brown. Not the ex Prime Minister. I watched them carefully for signs of stress, but the three of them sparked good humouredly off each other for an hour. These guys were good.

Then it was down Print Point and meet the Queen Bee, Latto, on her home turf. 'Would you like a cake?' she asked and there I was, caught, BANG in the headlights of her stare. I hadn't eaten since mid-day and I was starting to believe that I was a gum-shoe in a Raymond Chandler novel. Taking a cupcake and a glass of wine, I settled down to hear Myra Duffy chatting with American author Alexandra Sokoloff.

I had a few more glasses of wine. Relax, they were small and I wasn't driving anywhere other than myself. Up the wall. What was going on here at Bute Noir? What was Latto's mysterious hold over all these authors?

Then it was up to Rothesay Library for Alex Gray in conversation with Alanna Knight. That dame's a real lady. There was no way Knight was wrapped up in Latto's game. But Gray? She was cool, calm and classy. What was her involvement in all this?

It was now half past seven and I was twitching through lack of food and too much vino collapso. We were back in the Museum and Caro Ramsay was with Michael Malone and Douglas Skelton – a blonde rose between two thorns. They answered questions drawn from a hat and kept us royally entertained for an hour. Malone was also a poet laureate for a sex shop. I wasn't expecting that. Maybe it was somehow linked to the case ….

By 9pm I was back in the library and Francine and Janice - whom I suspected of being in league with Latto - kept me supplied with flapjacks and more wine. Sure, I was no closer to solving the mystery of Bute Noir, but I was getting so loused on rose that I no longer cared.

Suddenly, there he was - the Big Cheese. The Numero Uno. The Head Honcho. The daddy of them all ….. Christopher Brookmyre. From the start the guy had us all in the palm of his hand, playing it straight, but killing us with a wicked sense of humour. There was that Sokoloff dame again … was she on to me? I made some notes, staggered home through the darkness and fell into a troubled (wine-infused) sleep.

Saturday lunchtime I was stone-cold sober and swore to be on the wagon for the whole day. We were on the countdown to the end of Bute Noir and I had nothin' on anyone – they were all accomplished writers and entertaining talkers, but I was determined to get to who was responsible for all this.

I grabbed my pad and pen and headed off to the library where Ramsay, Robertson and Brookmyre were in cahoots and keeping a packed audience regaled. There was something about Robertson – an edge. I was starting to think that I'd got it all wrong …..

Maybe I'd been looking at this down the wrong lens of the telescope! Maybe Latto wasn't blackmailing Robertson …. maybe Robertson was blackmailing Latto!!

Elated by my new insights, I celebrated with some cake. And a couple of glasses of wine.

Knight and Duffy then took the floor and I was soon convinced that neither of these two clean-living broads were guilty of any crime. Other than the murders they wrote about, obviously.

I celebrated their elimination from the investigation by some more cake. And a couple more glasses of wine.

I headed back to the Museum where Grey was skilfully interviewed by Malone and I learned just what an important player Grey is. The organiser of Bloody Scotland … but not at the bottom of Bute Noir. Still, I felt as though I was closing in on The Organiser.

More wine was foisted upon me by the museum staff and I was powerless to resist.

The weather had closed in and I hurried through heavy rain to get back to Print Point where Veste and Skelton argued for the merits of their various home turf as locations. Glasgow won. So I celebrated by eating some more cake. And drinking more wine.

Latto looked on edge, nervous – did she know that I was on to her and her game? It was time to play a few trump cards. I mentioned that I wanted to know her game …. she immediately buckled and began to sing like a canary. Her game? Liverpool were playing and they were winning AND SHE WASN'T ABLE TO WATCH IT! No wonder this chick was so on edge.

I scored through Latto – she might be providing one of the safe houses, but there was someone else masterminding this shindig …

7pm and I cannot bite my own finger never mind suss out the criminal mastermind behind Bute Noir. Sokoloff, again! Brown, again! Both talking about their subtle use of the supernatural in their work. One thing was for sure, I needed a miracle from God to solve this in the next hour!

I drowned my sorrows in flapjacks and some more wine...

The last event of the weekend and the museum was packed. Robertson had centre stage and Sokoloff was manning the scoreboard. Was he in league with Sokoloff?

The quiz began and although I was determined not to be sucked into their criminal game, I found myself miming Ironside to team Brookmyre.

My investigation was now sorely compromised as I shamelessly hummed along to the themes from Starsky and Hutch, Kojak and Dixon of Dock Green.

Robertson had it in the bag and as he drove the quiz along, ruthlessly docking points and awarding points, it all became clear to me ...
Latto hadn't bribed them with chutney, rock and tablet …. It was all down to Robertson! Yes, crime-writing maestro Robertson had made the other authors an offer they couldn't refuse!

But I could do nothing – I had helped team Brookmyre cheat their way to second place in the two-team quiz.... I had bought Robertson and Sokoloff's books and they knew I was powerless to unmask them as the powerhouse behind Bute Noir.

They'll be back next year.

But next time I'll be ready …

** none of the names have been changed to protect the guilty **  

*** nae pix - but the men were all wearing fedoras and smoking cheroots and the dames looked beguiling *** 


  1. Ah,did you total up the number of murders?Not enough wine perhaps?

    1. So many good murders and tales of the unexpected!

  2. This is hilarious Myra! Well done Alison, you'll need to be our live blogger next year x

    1. It was great fun - and I didn't drink a huge amount of booze, it just felt like it cos I'd nothing inside me but a slice of victoria sponge from breakfast :-D

  3. Sounds like you had a blast :) But they need to schedule in *real* food. And whisky, FFS - wine and cake is not noir :D

    1. Yeah I should have been dragging on a Strand - that's all the sustenance a private dick needs, right? Maybe a nice single malt. And it should all have taken place in black and white.


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