Book Reviews: Every Night I Dream of Hell by Malcolm Mackay and The Long Drop by Denise Mina

Every Night I Dream of Hell
Malcolm Mackay
Mulholland Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-27177-6
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Nate Colgan would be the first to admit that his violent reputation makes him very good at his job – and bad at everything else. After eighteen years spent working on the sidelines of Glasgow’s criminal underworld, there’s no question he’ll accept the central position that Peter Jamieson’s crime organization offers him, despite his better judgment.  The organization isn’t as strong as it once was:  its most powerful members are either dead or behind bars, including Jamieson himself, and the time is ripe for change.  Change begins with an execution – – a message for Jamieson’s supporters – – which promptly sets the various factions within the organization against one another.  Colgan’s position as “security consultant” means his duty is clear:  identify the killer and find out who’s wiling to seize power at any cost – – even if it means igniting a war.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the law, DI Michael Fisher conducts his own investigation into the murder. Both men can’t help but wonder: Why do these events coincide with the return of the mother of Colgan’s child, Zara Cope, a disreputable woman who seems to have an uncanny ability to attract trouble and troublemakers?  A dark and thrilling crime drama, Every Night I Dream of Hell takes us deeper into a world of violence, fear, and double crosses.

Early on we meet Kevin Currie, a major part of “The Organization,” a guy “in his late forties getting slowly fat and jowly.”  Colgan, a member thereof since he was 18, is now replacing the man formerly Jamieson’s hitman, a line Colgan himself “had never crossed.”  Actually and directly causing the death of another was against his principles, as odd as that may sound, as Colgan is and can be as brutal as necessary.  An insomniac, Colgan thinks “the only world darker than the one I lived in was the one I slept in. . . I was always waking up growling at the darkness, scared of the things I was yet to do.”  He says of himself “I’m not an ugly man, a little weathered and starting to grey at the side of my dark hair, but not wholly unattractive and certainly well built. I’m smarter than most in this business, but not exactly a bundle of laughs.”

To call Colgan “morally complex,” as some readers have done, is an understatement.  The novel is hard-boiled, filled with dark humor, and Colgan is a fascinating protagonist, if one wants to so characterize him.  This is the fifth book written by Malcolm Mackay, the 2nd standalone after The Glasgow Trilogy, and is, as the earlier ones, highly recommended.

Not to detract from that sentiment, it should perhaps be noted that there is a five-page long list of characters provided at the beginning of the novel, and that is a good thing, although I must admit I did not refer to it as often as I needed to – the plethora of characters at times [many!] making it difficult to keep them straight in my mind.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Long Drop
Denise Mina
Little, Brown, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38057-7
Hardcover

From the publisher: William Watt’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are dead, slaughtered in their own home in a brutal crime that scandalized Glasgow.  Despite an ironclad alibi, police zero in on Watt as the primary suspect, but he maintains his innocence.  Distraught and desperate to clear his name, Watts puts out a bounty for information that will lead him to the real killer.  Peter Manuel claims he knows the truth that will absolve Watt and has information that only the killer would know.  It won’t come cheap.  Manuel is an infamous career criminal, a degenerate liar who can’t be trusted and will say or do anything to make a buck.  But Manuel has something that Watts wants, which makes him the perfect target for Manuel’s consummate con.  Watts agrees to sit down with Manuel, and before they know it, one drink has turned into an epic, forgotten night of carousing across the city’s bars and clubs that exposes the thin line between a yarn and the truth.  The next time the unlikely pair meet is across the witness stand in court – – where Manuel is on trial for the murder of Watt’s family. Manuel calls Watt to the stand to testify about the long, shady night they shared.  And the shocking testimony that Manuel coaxes out of Watt threatens to expose the dark hearts of the guilty and the innocent.  Based on true events, The Long Drop is an explosive, unsettling novel about guilt, innocence, and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

It won’t be a spoiler to state that the eponymous “long drop” is a reference to the method of the hanging process which was still the sentence of choice in murder cases when this case occurred, although capital punishment has since been abolished.  I am probably among the majority, at least in the U.S., when I confess ignorance of this crime, trial and the outcome thereof, so this True Crime novel was my first awareness of the apparent scandal that surrounded the case in the country where it took place.  Manuel, 31 years old at the time, and his trial, become a sensation.  The killer sought here “attacks women in the dark, hides in dusty attics, waiting for people to leave their homes so he can steal their mother’s engagement ring, lies on pristine linen bedclothes with dirty boots on or drops food on precious rugs and grinds it in with the heel of his shoe, spoiling a modest home for spite; he drags women down embankments, scattering their shopping in puddles, telling their three-year-old son to shut the f*** up or he’ll kill their mum.”  A rape charge against Manuel ends in a unanimous decision of Not Proven.  But there are still 8 murder charges against him, including that of two 17-year-old girls.  The trial is recounted in very convincing form by the author, whose previous books I have found extraordinarily good.  The chapters alternate between early December of 1957,and January of 1958, when the crimes occurred and May of 1958, when the trial takes place.  The characters are very well-drawn, especially that of Manuel and his parents, as well is Laurence Dowdall, “Glasgow’s foremost criminal lawyer”.   Another terrific novel from this author, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Advertisements

Book Reviews: Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina, The Devil in Her Way by Bill Loehfelm, and Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

Gods and BeastsGods and Beasts
Denise Mina
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-18852-4
Hardcover

Alex Morrow, DS with the Strathclyde police, is back in the newest book by this Scottish author.  The twins with whom Morrow was pregnant in the last book, the wonderful The End of the Wasp Season, are now a few months old.  As the new book opens, she is deep into what is referred to as “the Barrowfields investigation,” when a new case comes her way:  One week before Christmas, during the course of an armed robbery in a busy Glasgow post office, an elderly man who was patiently waiting in line suddenly is seen to assist the gunman, but not before handing his young grandson to a stranger, soon after which the grandfather is brutally murdered by the robber, who makes a clean escape.  The only clue the police have is the fact that the alarm system was not working the morning of the crime.  And the additional fact that the innocent bystander to whom the young boy was entrusted turns out to be much more complex than he at first appears.

I have had nothing but praise for the several earlier novels by Ms. Mina that I have read, and would like to say that this newest book was equally wonderful.  But I have to admit that I found it slow-moving and felt almost disjointed, as the several story lines unfold, including rampant control of the city by gangs (mostly involved in the drug trade, said to be worth more than a billion pounds a year in Scotland); police corruption; and a goodly amount of political discussion.  The final pieces don’t fall into place until nearly the very last page.  I should perhaps add that Paddy Meehan, the protagonist of several of Ms. Mina’s earlier books, makes a couple of peripheral appearances here.

I will still look forward to future offering from this author, but this one didn’t come up to the high level reached by its predecessors for this reviewer.  Oh, and should one wonder, the title is from Aristotle:  “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Devil In Her WayThe Devil in Her Way
Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-29885-2
Hardcover

Maureen Coughlin made her initial fictional appearance in The Devil She Knows.  Now, at the age of 30, after being a waitress for nine years, living through a series of unrewarding relationships, and residing with her mother on Staten Island, she decides to become a cop.  When the test for the NYPD is postponed, she applies and is accepted for the police academy in New Orleans.  And that’s where this novel begins, with Maureen serving her probationary trial period under the tutelage of Preacher Boyd, a wizened, jaundiced but savvy veteran NOPD police officer.

The plot, such as it is, follows Maureen and Preacher from her graduation from the police academy through her probationary period. On her first day, she answers a domestic call where she is brutally punched by a man bursting through the door.  While backup officers recover two pounds of weed, while she looks on from the street, a young boy seems to want to tell her something, but is warned off by someone across the street.  This sets the stage for an ever-inquisitive Maureen to pursue what turns out to be a major investigation, including murders, best left to homicide detectives, a specialty to which she aspires.

As a protagonist, Maureen leaves a lot to be desired.  Perhaps it is too early in her career to wish for more and she will develop more fully in future installments.  As a rookie, as her training officer reminds her often, much of what she attempts is none of her business. Sometimes it turns out OK, others, not so much.  The novel starts out slowly, and does not grab the reader, at least this one, until virtually the final pages  The author, who also moved from Staten Island to New Orleans, interweaves various post-Katrina observations throughout the book, reminding the reader of the devastation which still plagues the city.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Touch & GoTouch & Go
Lisa Gardner
Signet, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-46584-9
Mass Market Paperback

This standalone opens with the kidnapping of Justin Denbe, his 45-year-old pill-popping wife Libby, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn [who would seem to be wise beyond her years].  The author switches back and forth from Libby’s 1st person p.o.v. to third person throughout, having the effect of making Libby and her family not just ciphers, or “the victims,” but equally protagonists for whom the reader feels empathy.  This is nominally a police procedural about that kidnapping, filled with the expected quotient of suspense, but ultimately it’s much more than that:  it’s about a family which seemingly has it all, from their opulent Back Bay house in Boston to the hundred-million-dollar construction business headed by Justin.

While bringing back characters known from Ms. Gardner’s previous novels, 29-year-old corporate investigator and former Massachusetts State Police Trooper Tessa Leoni and Boston’s “reigning super cop,” Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren, other cops called into the case include New Hampshire detective Wyatt Foster and his former lover, FBI Special Agent Nicole “Nicky” Adams.  There appear to be no leads as to who pulled off this apparently very well-planned abduction, or any motive, as the first full day goes by with no ransom demand or other contact.

The suspense continues along pulse-pounding and unexpected paths right up until the end.  I found the novel even better than I had expected, although I had read and enjoyed a few of the author’s books in the past, and I will eagerly await the next one.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.