Louise Welsh’s crime novel, The Second Cut, is return to Rilke, the main character in The Cutting Room. It is not necessary to read the first book–although that background undoubtedly makes Rilke a more interesting character. The book opens with Rilke, a Glasgow-based auctioneer, attending the wedding of some friends. Rilke, who is homosexual, is according to another attendee, Jojo, a “serial shagger.” And it’s true; Rilke prefers brisk, spontaneous encounters, often anonymous, and Grindr helps that happen. Rilke’s approach to sex mirrors his approach to life. No emotional involvement. Jojo, who is drunk, gives Rilke a tip about a mansion “full of antiques,” in Galloway. He also passes Rilke an unidentified bottle of liquid and says it contains “sexual energy.”
That’s the last time Rilke sees Jojo alive. The next day, Jojo is found dead in an alleyway, and since Jojo’s reputation with the police is less than stellar, his death is written off as the demise of another junkie. Jojo’s death begins gnawing at Rilke’s mind. Perhaps he would have moved on, but Rilke is questioned by the police. Meanwhile, his boss Rose, who runs Bowery Auctions takes the tip about the mansion, and soon Rilke, Rose and some employees drive out and take inventory of the mansion’s contents. The mansion is owned by the unseen, elderly Aunt Patricia who is about to be shuffled off to a nursing home while her relatives, Frank and Alec Forrest, who are cousins, and seem a little too desperate, wrap up the estate. The mansion is full of antiques and collectibles:
The Forrest clan had been eager supporters of Empire. Their fortune had been accumulated in Malaysia via a rubber plantation and then branched into South African mining. They had been in India too, working with the East India Company.
Rilke, who can’t seem to put Jojo behind him, is contacted by Sands, a seemingly vulnerable young man who rented a room from Jojo. Sands wants to give Jojo a funeral, which given the lack of funds, seems impossible, but then Sands discovers a box full of bottles, “brothers of the distilled sexual energy.” Using connections, Rilke trades the bottles for the cost of a funeral and that brings gangster Jamie Mitchell into the picture. …
The sale at the mansion raises some questions involving moral responsibility, and the auction is fraught with signs of trouble. Rilke asks a few questions and pokes into some dirty business involving drug-fueled orgies.
The Second Cut is an atmospheric crime novel infused with grime and decay. The decay is further emphasized by Rilke’s realization that his best days are past and that, sexually, he’s not such a hot prospect any more. There’s a whole new generations of men who have little time or interest in him. Rilke, who deals in antiques, knows the difference between an item of value and a piece of tat, and Rilke intuits which category he falls into. Throughout the novel, it becomes uncomfortably clear that Rilke’s sell-by-date is long past.
There is nothing except this room: the caravan of objects. The hammer in my hand beats out time, What will you give me? What will you give me for…? The hammer in my hand raps out the order of everything. The world is in my breath. Past and present, weighed and counted.