Malcolm Mackay's brutal thriller, The Night The Rich Men Burned, set in the mean streets of Glasgow may lack sophistication but it's a fast-paced read
Malcolm Mackay has only been a published crime writer since June last year but his Glasgow Trilogy attracted the sort of acclaim normally reserved for far more experienced novelists.
Fans of the trilogy will be relieved to know that The Night the Rich Men Burned – Mackay's fourth novel and the first to stand alone – does not stray far from the already tried and tested formula. Set in the murky Glasgow underworld this latest tartan noir effort follows the business and personal fortunes of a group of shady characters running less-than-legal debt collection operations.
It is a veritable cast of villains starring self-made nouveau riche bosses and members of the old guard constantly trying to maintain their power and influence. The main protagonists are Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, two friends who are young and on the make in a dangerous world. But their involvement in the debt business takes them down very different paths. While Peterkinney rises to the top, starting his own business and living the life he's always dreamed of Glass spirals into debt and alcoholism fuelled by his attempts to impress girlfriend and prostitute Ella.
This lends structure to a story that moves from portraying the brutal – and they are brutal – day-to-day manoeuvrings of the bosses and the casual thuggery of the "muscle" that works for them, to plotting and intrigue as those at the top vie to expand their operations.
Unfortunately this plotting is all a little straightforward, creating only one or two moments of genuine peril and uncertainty. The characters are lacking in guile and wit with the vast majority of the problems they face solved by dishing out a sound beating.
The characterisation is also disappointingly obvious, with a new character's arrival greeted with a full paragraph outlining their life so far, qualities, failings and motivations. Despite this, it is a fast-paced read, combining an enjoyably voyeuristic insight to the violent world of these gangsters with enough of a focus on their lives and motivations to make them if not likeable at least understandable.
Mackay's description of his chosen setting is superb and even though their initial portrayal is often clunking and straightforward the characters are well thought out and believable. The book does lack a touch of sophistication in the storytelling but the huge number of fans Malcolm Mackay has garnered since his first release 14 months ago is unlikely to be disappointed.