Meantime by Frankie Boyle review – the comedian’s dark, funny Glasgow noir debut

Frankie Boyle: ‘a fine ear for dialogue’. Photograph: Rich Gilligan

Crime fiction

Withnail and I meets James Bond as two druggy neighbours and a celebrity crime novelist join forces to investigate a murder in Boyle’s deft, engaging thriller

Sun 17 Jul 2022 11.00 BST

Writing a crime novel now appears to be a well-established rung on the career ladder of white male television entertainers, achieved with varying degrees of success and skill, so it’s a relief to find that Frankie Boyle’s first work of fiction is an enjoyably dark and entertaining tranche of Glasgow noir. It contains all the deft wordplay you’d expect of him, and a few well-aimed, drive-by satirical shots at political targets along the way.

Set in the aftermath of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Meantime is narrated by Felix McAveety, a Valium addict and aspiring writer whose best friend, Marina, is found murdered in a Glasgow park – news Felix first learns when he’s woken by police demanding a sperm sample. Finding himself a suspect, Felix and his overweight neighbour, Donnie, also partial to mind-altering substances, decide to undertake their own investigation: “We were the two people least suited to investigating anything, but with the right drug combinations we could be whoever we had to be.”

Imagine Withnail and I stumbling into a Bond movie co-written by William McIlvanney and Mick Herron, and that gives only a vague idea of the mashup that follows. Unsurprisingly, there are passages that are piercingly funny, especially when Boyle is on familiar turf: “I’d always had real problems with motivation, but I’d worked for a couple of years at BBC Scotland, where that had been an asset. The whole organisation existed almost entirely to stop Scottish programmes from being made.”

Felix and Donnie, with the assistance of Jane Pickford, a celebrity crime novelist, end up out of their depth in a world of nationalist politics, artificial intelligence and espionage. Herron’s Slough House novels and TV series such as Killing Eve have revived the larger-than-life comic noir genre, and it’s easy to picture Meantime being adapted for TV; Boyle writes with a fine ear for dialogue. There’s also a great affection for Glasgow and its inhabitants, with all their screw-ups and foibles, and it’s this that gives the novel not just wit but heart.

Meantime by Frankie Boyle is published by John Murray Press (£14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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Stephanie Merritt