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by Malcolm Mackay
Mantle, January 2013
256 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 023076620X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For a man born and brought up on Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides for a soft southerner like me the very edge of the known world Malcolm Mackay seems to know an awful lot about big city crime. His debut, the first of a trilogy possibly all out this year, is quietly impressive and sets him apart from the ever-growing Tartan Noir community.

His often laconic style is more American than Scottish and may remind older readers of Raymond Chandler, minus most of the quips. Although the book is set in Glasgow's sordid and violent underworld, that is almost a geographical coincidence and it could be almost any city. This unnerving portrayal of organised crime is wholly believable and could easily be an episode from The Sopranos.

Freelance killer Calum MacLean likes life on his own and wants to stay that way. He knows how easy it is to kill and how difficult to kill well so that no suspicion will ever attach to him. When age and infirmity catches up with the retained gun of a mid-sized drugs ring he is called in to dispose of a small time dealer who is becoming too big for his boots but is the man just stupidly ambitious or is he just a front for a possible takeover?

Around the cool and calculating character of MacLean, Mackay arranges a vivid and rounded cast his stunningly polite yet lethal employers and a lesser and often less charming assortment of villains, a gangster's girl with brains, beauty and an ambition to beat the system, honest and bent policemen and the shabby drug dealer of the title. But it is his treatment of this absorbing tale which sets it apart from the run of the mill gangland thriller.

From the first page Mackay treats this world in a downbeat, matter of fact manner. His confident and impressively controlled writing keeps up the tension and ensures that a story that in less capable hands could become boringly slow, never does so. This restrained style and a welcome lack of moralising combined with a rigidly linear narrative and no mystery element keep nothing from the reader. Like MacLean, the story is careful, compelling, planned and free of frills as it builds to a powerful climax.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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