Written by Malcolm Mackay — In this debut novel by the Stornaway-based author Malcolm Mackay, we enter the cold world of Glasgow contract killer, Calum Maclean. With the venerable but respected hitman Frank McCloud recovering from a hip operation, young Calum is much in demand. He is summoned to the snooker club (where else?) which acts as the headquarters of Peter Jamieson, a feared gang boss. Lewis Winter has become a problem to Jamieson and his lieutenant, John Young. And problems like Lewis Winter can only have one solution.
Lewis Winter looks’as though he had just lost’. A brilliant six-word summation, this. Not lost at cards, not lost at the races, not lost a wager in some pub in front of the widescreen TV. Just ‘lost’. At Life. At love. At business. At pretty much everything. However, despite his failed business deals, his expanding waistline and his greying hair, he has managed to acquire a live-in-lovely called Zara Cope. She is not in the first flush of youth, but can turn heads the length and breadth of Strathclyde. She is warm and comfortable under Winter’s roof, but has appetites and quirks that go beyond his capabilities. She loves to party, loves to whirl and swirl in late night clubs when Winter would rather be at home on his sofa with a dram. Her eroticism leaves Winter with only one option – he must go along with her penchant for picking up young men out on the town, and bringing them back home.
After many hours of patient observation, Calum Maclean realises that this sad and destructive part of the relationship between Zara and Lewis presents him with an opportunity. What better time and place to carry out his dark work than late at night in a suburban house, where his target has passed out in the bedroom while his lover is working her magic with some random pick-up on the living-room sofa? Aided by his Neanderthal but reliable gofer, George Daley, and only facing minor inconvenience from policemen Michael Fisher and Paul Greig, Calum goes to work. He does not escape unscathed, but only enhances his reputation in spite of the piteous state of his victims.
I have only one criticism of The Necessary Death, and it is not easy to articulate, as it concerns a characteristic of the book which is a potential strength when looked at in a different light. Yes, the writing is icy and elegant. And yes, the plot is relatively simple, but full of nuances and twists. At the heart of it all, though, there is a certain lack of soul about the whole narrative. No-one expects an author to be a moralist, unless he or she chooses to be, but I felt several removes distant from the main characters here, with two exceptions – Winter and Cope. The irony is, of course, that Winter’s downfall is complete, but while Cope survives in the short term, we feel her outlook is bleak.
This is a classy and stylish debut novel. Malcolm Mackay uses spare and economic prose, and wastes few words on elaborate descriptions of locations. The dialogue is likewise terse and convincing. The main achievement of the novel is that Mackay takes a cast of fairly unappealing characters, and while we do not grow to actually like them, we do understand them and the dark world they inhabit. Calum Maclean, however, remains an enigma behind the matter-of-fact way in which he goes about his business, and I look forward to his next appearance.
The book is released on 17 January.
Published by Mantle
CFL Rating: 4 Stars