- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Denise Mina has often used true crime and scandal for the basis of her novels. Usually she tears off the headline and runs with it, going further with the ideas and situations it suggests. With The Long Drop, she takes one of Glasgow’s most notorious murder cases, keeping the names of those involved, cutting closer to the bone and going deep instead of far. The result is her finest book to date.
in 1956, three women, Marion Watt, her daughter Viviene, and family friend Margret Brown were found in bed with a bullet in each head. Marion’s husband, William Watt, a man with a known drinking problem was the first chief suspect. Mina creates a fictional account of Watt meeting Peter Manuel, a petty burglar who was eventually put on trial for the murders, in a club arranged by Watt’s lawyer. Manuel agrees to tell him everything about the night of the killings if they ditch the lawyer. The story proceeds to follow their dark pub crawl, interweaving it with Manuel’s trail two years later.
Mina tells the interlocking stories contrasting in tone, yet reflecting off one another for deeper thought and meaning.The night between Watt and Manuel has the feel of a subdued thriller filled with quiet Watt’s quiet desperation as he is at the whims of a quiet mad man. First the novel is about finding the truth, then the nature of truth itself is put to the question. The last part of that question is examined in the sensational trial that captured O.J. level interest in Scotland with Manuel defending himself and Watt testifying on a stretcher. This part starts at a great distance, capturing place and period more by attitude of the time than tossing historical detail at the reader. Mina slowly becomes more intimate, yet cold as we get to know those involved with the case, creating a feel much like Capote’s In Cold Blood especially near the end. For Americans unfamiliar with the case, only look into it after you’ve read the book, since it creates some unintended suspense for us.
Just a little over two hundred pages, the novel is concentrated Denise Mina. Class, a subject she often explores, is examined through Watt’s and Manuel’s interactions. It becomes especially apparent when when Watt mocks in his mind a club that Manuel would find posh even though it is below his tastes. It’s an odd feeling of superiority displayed by a man at the mercy of the other. Forms of guilt and sin are measured. Mina creates a mystery out of Watt’s goal for information. Through Manuel is he trying to find justice for his wife and daughter, simple exoneration, or a deeper absolution? There appears to be enough guilt to go around.
The Long Drop is a well cut, cold hard diamond of a novel, showing off the many facets of its thematics. While much is revealed, we are properly left with more haunting questions than when we started. Denise Mina respects her readers and their emotional intelligence in her acknowledgment that no murder, solved or unsolved, punished or unpunished, ever has closure.
The Long Drop comes out May 23rd – pre-order now!