My Pal, Sam Bryson
By Russel D. McLean

Goddamn, Sam, it's good to have you back.

I’ve spent the past three years writing about a darker, more grown up kind of eye. The kind with troubles you wouldn’t dream about. And then I get to thinking about how I left you high and dry, your story unfinished, only the merest of hints about what happened to you.

And you didn’t like it.

Started whispering in my ear.

Saying, “Finish the story, McLean. Tell me what happens next.”

* * * * *

Thing is, Sam Bryson was never meant to be a series character. I was 23 when I wrote his first story, "The Death of Ronnie Sweets" and he was meant to be a bit of a joke: a hard-boiled PI on the streets of Scotland’s fourth city.

But he didn’t want to be a joke. He wanted to be taken seriously, and the more I wrote about him, the more serious his voice became.

And suddenly he was more than an homage. He was a character I cared about. And he let me into his world. Told me about his love for Ros, the American Philosophy Professor who still lived in her own apartment despite their having been involved for so many years. Told me about how he worried for his best friend, Sandy Griggs, a deceptively scare-crow like policeman whose slight frame hid a vicious temper that seemed focussed on domestic abuse cases with a laser-like intensity. Told me about how he worried about his own anger, how one day it was going to get out of control.

So I wrote more stories with him.

The idea being that I’d break out into a novel one day.

Except that never happened. For more than a few reasons, Sam got left behind. He was frozen at the end of a story called "Davey's Daughter." The only hint we got to his fate was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in my debut novel, The Good Son.

And that, as far as I thought, was that.

Until a collective of bloggers at Do Some Damage got together to create a short story collection centred around Father’s Day.

And suddenly I knew what had happened to Sam. Part of it, at least. What had led to his giving up the investigation game.

But as I wrote the story called "Flesh and Blood" I got the feeling there was more to tell. That rather than being at the end of the story, I was only at the beginning. It was a halfway mark, a transitory stage.

Sam had more to say.

Which is why I started planning more shorts for the grumpy young bastard (if there’s one thing I would do differently now, it would be to up Sam’s age).

But I worried that it had been too long since anyone had seen Sam,  that people wouldn’t remember everything he went through, that they wouldn’t care.

Which was why I released the old shorts in a single collection available exclusively in e-book edition. Looking back over these old stories, I saw a raw and developing voice, one that made up for lack of grace with a kind of pulpy excitement. Sure, some of Sam’s procedure’s were off, and maybe my understanding of law and order wasn’t quite as tip-top as it could have been, but these stories were my pulps, and bloody hell I still loved them. I was still shocked by the turn of events in the story "Regrets," a tale that worried me when I first wrote it – given the subject matter I wondered if Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine might reject it. But they didn’t and it remains one of my favourite stories; I still get that lump reading it that I did when writing it.

I’m not afraid to say that returning to Sam was like running into an old friend and realising that no matter how many years had passed, you still had some kind of connection. Things might not be quite like the old days, but they’re every bit as much fun.

Sam, buddy, it’s a goddamn pleasure to have you back. And its good to know that new readers are going to get to know you, too.

-- Russel D McLean


  • "The Death of Ronnie Sweets" (June 2004, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Dudman's Word" (December 2004, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Coughing John" (July/August 2005, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Regrets" (December 2005, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Like a Matter of Honour" (June 2009, The Thrilling Detective Web Site)
  • "What Friends Are For" (April 2008, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Her Cheating Heart (Summer 2008, Spinetingler Magazine)
  • "Davey's Daughter" (September 2008, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)
  • "Flesh and Blood" (2011, Collateral Damage). Nook it!


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