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iScot Book Review

Denise Mina is one of Scotland’s leading crime writers, having published twelve novels since 1998. In her latest offering, The Long Drop, recently awarded the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Fiction, Mina ventures into the no-man’s-land between fact and fiction. She takes as her subject Glasgow serial killer Peter Manuel. At the heart of the story is an extraordinary meeting in December 1957 between Manuel and William Watt, whose wife, daughter and sister-in-law had been murdered at their home in Burnside, on the Glasgow’s South Side, on 17 September 1956. The meeting developed into an 11-hour pub crawl, and what passed between Manuel and Watt during that period is unknown. Mina steps in to fill this gap, imagining the two men’s dark odyssey through Glasgow’s underworld. Intercut are scenes from Manuel’s trial in May 1958 on eight counts of murder. An eerie circle is formed when Manuel, conducting his own defence, questions Watt about their night out together.

The story is hardly a whodunnit, so where is Mina coming from? The first trigger is her fascination with the Glasgow of the 1950s. This bygone Glasgow, of dingy tenements, factories, razor gangs, and close-knit communities, is lovingly recreated, sight, sound and smell expertly captured. We visit with Watt and Manuel the drinking dens of the underworld and the ‘club’ run by gangster Dandy McKay, where politicians, crime bosses and businessmen rub shoulders and make deals. This is a man’s world, but we see women too: the all-night queuers outside the courthouse; Manuel’s relatives and his victims; Watt’s sister-in-law. The book is a homage to a city where life was hard, money short, alcohol plentiful, and violence lurked in the shadows. And where women knew their place, and took the slaps of men and fate without complaint.

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iScot Magazine
October 2017

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