Kevin Sampson reviews the first book in Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Trilogy:
So you’re galloping toward the climax of this hugely enjoyable crime thriller, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. The amount of book in your right hand is down to a thin sheaf and you’re thinking – how the ruddy heck is he going to tie all this up in ten pages?
You’ve been loving it, too. The first third of the novel is recounted with cold precision through the voice and worldview of a freelance hitman, Calum Maclean. Calum is a loner in his late 20s who kills people for money. He’s good at it. He doesn’t take too many jobs on and, when he accepts a commission, he plans it with meticulous detail. In the opening pages of this first instalment of Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Trilogy, Calum agrees to take care of the necessary death of a small-time drug dealer, Lewis Winter. He doesn’t inquire as to why it is necessary Winter dies; his is not to question the men at the top who order such hits. Through the inter-weaving, first-person voices of several other characters, though – from Winter himself, his girlfriend, the cynical and manipulative Zara Cope, right through to the old-school Wegie mafiosos who need Winter gone, we build up a back story of drug gangs, loan-sharks, dodgy car dealers and turf wars that threaten to descend into all-out gangland strife between Peter Jamieson’s mob (Calum’s employer) and the up-and-coming Francis firm. Written in spare prose with little mise-en-scene we come to understand that Jamieson wants Winter clipped in order to send a message to Hughie “Shug” Francis not to encroach any further onto his patch. Calum stakes out Winter’s M.O and methodically sets about executing him. You come to quite like Lewis Winter, after a fashion, but you see why he had to buy the farm. Calum does the deed – we think – and that’s the first part of the story done and dusted, and very well done it is, too.
Things take something of a twist and turn in the middle section, when wily career cop DI Fisher enters the fray. He interviews Zara Cope and immediately smells a rat. Cope – who was having sexual intercourse with a gentleman other than Lewis Winter at the time of his demise – is spinning him a line; but she’s good. He can’t quite trap her, and has to let her go. He knows she’s the key to nailing this case, but he’s going to have to be extra cunning if he’s going to reel her in.
Then there’s Stewart Macintosh, the young man she was cavorting with on Winter’s sofa while the gunman stole upstairs to shoot him. Fisher wonders whether Macintosh might even be his gunman; or whether he’s the Latch Man who tricked his way inside Winter’s home to let the killer in; or whether Cope is much more involved than she’s letting on. Maybe she, or Macintosh, or both of them are mired in this filthy, back-stabbing plot?
As our guessing-game begins to gather pace, Hughie Francis ups his game by issuing an APB to find whoever killed Lewis Winter. If that’s Peter Jamieson sending him a message then he wants to send one back – within 24 hours. He sends the loathsome thug Glen Davidson – youngest member of an established and hated Glasgow crime family – to identify, track down and murder Winter’s executioner. We’re now into the final third, and Peter Jamieson and his henchmen are discussing collateral damage. Is Calum Maclean expendable? He’s good, and he’s theirs, but – if it comes to it – can they afford to throw him to the lions? Davidson comes in the night with a knife in his teeth, and you find yourself in the odd situation of rooting like mad for a character who kills people for cash.
So you’re galloping toward the climax of this hugely enjoyable crime thriller, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. The amount of book in your right hand is down to a thin sheaf and you’re thinking – how the ruddy heck is he going to tie all this up in ten pages? The answer is…the answer is go out and buy it and find out for yourselves. It’s really good. I’m already looking forward to the second instalment.
And in something of a neat segue, Kevin Sampson’s latest book is also a hard hitting crime caper and the first in a trilogy. The Killing Pool – a Liverpool Noir – is out now (review to follow). More info here.