Written by Malcolm Mackay — To the casual observer Frank MacLeod is an unremarkable man approaching old age. Another near-pensioner shuffling to the shop for a newspaper he won’t read, and a pint of milk that will go off before he finishes it. To those in the know, Frank is a very different person. He is a contract killer. A gunman. Probably the best in Glasgow. He works for Peter Jamieson, a ruthless criminal. Frank has kept himself beyond the reach of the law, but he is not beyond the reach of the ageing process, and he has recently taken time off for an un-gangsterlike procedure – a hip replacement operation. But now he is back, and ready for work.
Shug Francis is Jamieson’s rival, and one of his dealers has been straying into Jamieson territory. Tommy Scott and Andy ‘Clueless’ McClure have graduated from working the wastelands underneath the tower blocks to something more serious. Jamieson is just biding his time before getting rid of Francis, but just for now, a message will suffice. He sends MacLeod round to Scott’s flat. With a gun.
What should be a simple task for a man of MacLeod’s experience goes badly wrong. Tommy Scott isn’t as green as he seems and MacLeod suffers the worst indignity for a contract killer. He is ambushed, and finds himself kneeling on the floor of his intended victim’s flat with his own gun held to his head. Frank is in trouble, but Tommy Scott has a dilemma. It’s a big step from being a peddler to a killer, and a big step from cracking a skull to putting a bullet in it. Scott sees only one course of action. Get in touch with Shug Francis. Scott phones Shug’s right-hand-man. Scott and McClure are told to stay put, and that someone will be sent round to resolve the matter. Unfortunately for the hapless pair, loyalties in the world of organised crime can be as smoke in the wind. The killer who Shug sends round takes out an insurance policy, and instead of going directly to the flat contacts Peter Jamieson giving him precisely one hour to sort out the mess himself.
Jamieson realises that there is only one person he can trust to sort out this mess, now that Frank himself is in trouble. He calls Calum MacLean. MacLean is the younger generation of gunmen. Cold, ruthless, painstaking and utterly reliable. The previous year he had disposed of two more of Shug’s men, Lewis Winter and Glen Davidson, and despite being injured in the second killing, he is available for employment again.
The rest of the book unfolds with a mixture of tension and tragedy. Mackay’s style is cold, matter of fact, remorselessly mundane in some ways, but gripping. The dialogue and narrative are staccato and rapid fire, but these are not wisecracking American hot-shots. There are no jokes. These are ruthless men for whom death and killing is just a professional necessity. Glasgow is ever-present in one sense, but completely absent in another. There are no elaborate descriptions of weather, scenery or routes around the city, just nerve jangling prose about these terrible men and their terrible business.
MacKay does not go in for literary tricks or sleight of hand; he is too good for that. There is, however, a heart-stopping final chapter when you’ll be lured into thinking one thing is going to happen, but then the awful truth is revealed, one paragraph at a time. This is brilliant stuff, and the author has boosted his reputation, which was steadily growing after last year’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars