The sudden arrival of Malcolm Mackay

08 August 2014

By Pan Macmillan

Few new novelists have enjoyed such immediate (and unanimous) acclaim in the critical fraternity as the young Scottish crime writer Malcolm Mackay.

His books (the first of which was The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter) suggested a tough Scottish equivalent of the hardboiled James M. Cain (author of Double Indemnity): a writer who didn't waste a word but who nourished a certain poetic sensibility (as evinced by the titles of the other two books in his trilogy, How a Gunman Says Goodbye and the powerful final volume, The Sudden Arrival of Violence).



Every new debut in the crime fiction field is inevitably trumpeted by its publisher, though many such books fall neglected by the wayside. But once in a while a book comes along which not only justifies the publisher’s hyperbole but has critics attempting to come up with new adjectives to praise it. Mackay’s debut, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, burst upon the scene with the impact of a hand grenade, uneasily placing the reader in the mind of a hit man. Using the familiar trappings of the crime novel, the book was still utterly original, and it was clear that a major new voice had appeared, virtually fully formed. What made that novel particularly impressive was its terrifyingly laidback, authentic toughness And as if to put paid to the notion that a second novel after a powerful debut invariably disappoints, How a Gunman Says Goodbye was, if anything, even better than its remarkable predecessor.

We're back in the Glasgow underworld. Life is cheap and criminal organisations are constantly engaged in ruthless face-offs. Frank MacLeod, a man who has long practised his ruthless trade as a gunman, is perhaps no longer the best in the business. He is over 60, and dealing with the inconvenience of a hip replacement, and his skills are in decline. Is it time for his youthful protégé, Calum MacLean, to step into his shoes? The two men have been friends, but events are conspiring to put that friendship to the test – and the results will not be pretty.

The real achievement here is how Mackay has built on the dark and vivid vision of the Scottish underworld that made his first book so memorable. Crucially, he has not forgotten the importance of pithy characterisation, particularly where his relentless protagonists are concerned. The third book of the trilogy, The Sudden Arrival of Violence, maintained the impetus of the first two. Calum MacLean is working for two criminal bosses. But as Calum decides a life of crime is not for him and begins to arrange his retirement, a gang war breaks out between his boss and a bitter rival, and inevitably Calum is drawn into the bloodiest of showdowns.

I don't know about my fellow reviewers, but to me there wasn't the slightest doubt that Mackay would pull off this concluding volume with the kind of understated panache of its predecessors… and so it proved. Perhaps the book's most signal achievement is keeping us fascinated by the reptilian protagonist Cannily, this young novelist realises that when it comes to our fascination with ruthless antiheroes, it's definitely a case of plus a change.

– Barry Forshaw, The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, Crime Time www.crimetime.co.uk

Start reading first book from The Glasgow Trilogy
 

You may also like

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter
How a Gunman Says Goodbye
The Sudden Arrival of Violence