Written by Malcolm Mackay — Glasgow crime novels seem to be two a penny these days, but this one is different. Firstly, the city is a kind of mute spectator to the events. Apart from one or two brief references to streets and districts, there is a welcome absence of the sat-nav style of scene setting employed by some novelists. Secondly, ye will nae find any cod Scots dialect in the narrative – Malcolm Mackay dis nae do tha kind o’ thing, ye ken.
Most of the action is seen through the eyes of Nate Colgan, feared gangland enforcer. For those who are new to Mackay’s novels, there is certainly a back-story to be discovered. Colgan’s ultimate boss, Peter Jamieson, is doing time in Barlinnie prison, along with his right hand man, John Young. In their absence, there is something of a power vacuum, despite Jamieson doing his best to control his empire via a smuggled mobile phone and his solicitor. No-one is quite sure who is boss, but Angus Lafferty had taken it upon himself to try and hold together the extensive criminal enterprise of money laundering, drugs and prostitution.
At this point, it could be useful to check out the story so far from our reviews. The author’s Glasgow Trilogy began with The Unnecessary Death of Lewis Winter. We also reviewed The Night The Rich Men Burned, which isn’t part of the series, and Mackay spoke to us about his work in this interview.
Nate Colgan has been appointed as Head of Security to the Jamieson organisation. He is neither flattered nor impressed by his new title. He knows he will be expected to carry on breaking legs and battering heads as per usual. Colgan is not an unduly complex man, but neither is he an unredeemable thug. He has a daughter, Rebecca, by Zara Cope, a woman who is no stranger to criminality. His only current relationship is with Kate Newbury, but he finds it difficult to be close to people, and he keeps her at arms length.
A gang of interlopers from Birmingham is rumoured to be muscling in on the Glasgow scene, and they announce their intentions with a professional one-bullet hit on a minor functionary in Angus Lafferty’s drug dealing operation. Colgan and his young apprentice Ronnie Malone set out to find the Birmingham gang, but they seem to have vanished from the face of the earth. Colgan’s equanimity is disturbed by the unexpected – and unwelcome – reappearance of Zara Cope, and things get worse when he realises she may be connected to the boys from down south.
The cast of characters is lengthy, and sometimes confusing, but Mackay helpfully provides a list of the dramatis personnae at the beginning of the book and, despite my familiarity with the novels, I had to refer to it on more than one occasion.
The action plays out relentlessly and brutally, and Mackay very cleverly gives Colgan just enough humanity for us to accept him as the central character, without actually liking the man. The dialogue is needle sharp and throughly convincing. There is a beautifully understated irony in the descriptions of the various gangsters when they have meetings. They all like to think of themselves as simply businessmen, and they dutifully follow all the courtesies and conventions of men who deal in frozen desserts rather than pain, humiliation and death. There are occasional touches of black humour, but this as dark and deeply unsettling a book as you will read all year.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars