The Long Drop by Denise Mina

‘Good storytelling is all about what’s left in, what’s left out and the order in which the facts are presented.’

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Denise Mina’s novels, and when a friend mentioned this one, I added it to my ‘must read’ list.  This is quite a different novel: a fictionalised account of real events.  Peter Manuel was a serial killer, convicted of seven murders in Glasgow, and hanged in July 1958.  He was aged 31.

So, how does Denise Mina turn this into a novel?

William Watt is under suspicion of having killed his wife Marion, daughter Vivienne and sister-in-law Margaret.  Watt swears that he wasn’t responsible, he was miles away at the time the murders were committed. Concerned that the police won’t investigate further, even if they don’t have enough evidence to prove him guilty, Watt sets out to find out the truth.  Through a series of vague and shadowy connections, Watt meets Manuel.  Watt is convinced that Manuel is the murderer, and sets out to prove it.

The two men spend a drunken night together, a night which constitutes the body of the novel.  Drunk, each reveal more than they’d intended to.  The novel shifts between the drunken night and scenes from Peter Manuel’s trial.  The shifts are unsettling: drunk he may let his guard down, sober Peter Manuel is delusional, his reality incomprehensible.  His father has lied for him, his mother won’t.  Bridget Manuel loves her son, and fears him.

After I read this novel, I read a little more about Peter Manuel.  At least in this novel, Ms Mina has provided some context for events. William Watt, in this novel at least, is not particularly likeable and may not be quite as innocent as he claims. Nor is Glasgow likeable: Ms Mina creates such a vivid picture of Glasgow in the 1950s.  Public drunkenness, crime, poverty, violence.  Such an appropriate backdrop to this miserable, awful story.

I did not enjoy this novel, but I’m glad I read it.  It’s a confronting story, well told.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith