REVIEW: The Long Drop by Denise Mina
(Harvill Secker, £12.99 hardback)
DENISE Mina has ventured into the past in her writing before, notably with the Paddy Meehan series about a young reporter dealing with sexism and murder in Glasgow of the 1970s and '80s.
With this standalone novel, she takes a step back a generation to shed new focus on one of Glasgow’s most notorious killers, the intelligent and charismatic, but fatally dangerous Peter Manuel.
Manuel’s 1950s murder spree, which included men, women and children, featured in a recent STV drama, In Plain Sight, which followed events from the view of investigating officer William Muncie.
Muncie hardly rates a mention in Mina’s book (and when he does, it is with a rather sceptical mention of his conviction rate). Instead she looks at Manuel’s story through a much weirder aspect of the case.
William Watt was a reasonably to do Glasgow baker. One evening in September 1956, when he was away on a fishing trip, his wife, sister-in-law and teenage daughter were shot to death in the family home. Watt came under suspicion, largely due to a rather suspect identification, and in a bid to clear his name offered a reward for anyone who came forward with information.
One man who did was Peter Manuel, who two years later would be hanged for the murder of Watt’s family and five other kilings.
In the television drama, this is dealt with in a relatively brief but tempestuous scene in a restaurant. The reality is much stranger – Watt and Manuel instead embarked on an all night drinking spree in Glasgow’s pubs and clubs, both legal and otherwise.
Mina takes us along with them, relaying one possible interpretation of the night’s events in crafted prose that has the surreal feel of watching events through Watt and Manuel’s own alcoholic haze.
Interspersed with their unlikely odyssey through Glasgow’s dark underbelly, where drinks flow and secrets are revealed, are scenes from Manuel’s trial where, ever the showboater, he sacks his legal team and conducts his own defence.
Not just a portrait of a warped personality, Mina’s book also chronicles a changing city where the poverty-stricken tenements of old are being ripped down to make way for tower blocks transforming the skyline and the way of life of its inhabitants. These developments, and the ones who secretly pull the strings behind the city, may not be unrelated to Manuel’s murder spree.
You may not buy entirely into Mina’s suggestions about the true facts behind the Watt murders and Manuel’s other crimes, but there is no doubt this a strong piece of work from Mina who has surpassed her own high standards with this gripping dip into true crime.