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on 8 May 2013
This book was recommended to me as a fresh take on the crime novel from a new Scottish author. Plenty other reviewers have provided a synopsis of the plot so I won't waste time explaining it again here.
It definitely injects new ideas and a takes a fresh approach to the modern tradition of Scottish crime literature but I agree with other reviewers about influences being drawn from American crime literature.

- An entertaining and believable collection of characters that hold your interest throughout the story. Although none of them are particularly likeable to the reader, they are well drawn and suited to the plot.
- Whilst the story does draw on traditional gangland fodder, it creates a narrative that is new and interesting.
- Telling the story in third-person present tense from the perspective of the cast of characters allows you to see the events from different perspectives and helps to hold your interest.
- The story is lean and doesn't rely on extended descriptive prose, allowing for the plot to take centre-stage.
- The pace of the storytelling is steady and clinically controlled. This makes a pleasant change from books that rely on the big bangs and explosions that some books rely on to move the story along.

- For me, it completely lacks any sense of place. Other than being directly told it takes place in Glasgow at the beginning of the book, the story makes no other tangible reference to its setting. There are no street names, areas, pubs, shops landmarks to help ground the story apart from a brief reference to a nightclub name and an ambiguous mention of 'the river'. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Ian Rankin's Rebus series where Edinburgh plays a starring role. I know the author chose to omit lengthy descriptions of settings but the lack of 'Glasgow' in a Glasgow gangland novel is a significant weakness in my eyes.
- The author's use of short sentences really began to grate a bit by the end. I know this helped to create the mood, it does become a bit onerous.
- Whilst I did like the third-person present tense narrative, it was occasionally a little unsettling as we jumped from character to character.
- A tiny annoyance but the references to 'whiskey' was strange. Its perfectly plausible that the different characters were enjoying a drop of the Irish stuff but it seems to be more of an error than a deliberate use.

Overall, it was an enjoyable debut read from a skilled author and I will definitely be reading the next in the trilogy.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Somewhat against my expectations, I thought this was a really excellent book. The story, set in present-day Glasgow, is of a request for a professional gunman to kill a small-time drug dealer and of its consequences for the various people involved. It sounds like a rather run-of-the-mill crime thriller, but turned out to be original, gripping and, to me at least, very haunting.

It is less a police procedural than a sort of drugs-world contract killing procedural. The narrative style is very pared down with few adjectives and almost no similes. It generally uses very short sentences. Quite often without a verb. I found this extremely effective and I was very quickly engrossed. The narrative is all third-person, but we get the thoughts and perspectives of a number of characters throughout the book, each of whom is very well portrayed. Descriptions are brief but very evocative, like this when a character hides in an alley: "The smell in the alley doesn't help. It's nothing specific, just a dirty smell. A mixture of all of life's ugly things, all pushed into the corners." We also get some very perceptive glimpses of people's inner worlds, like the young hit-man reflecting on his future: "It's a chilling thought. You work hard, take risks and make sacrifices when you're younger, and all you end up with is a craving for the things you sacrificed."

The plotting is excellent, the pacing is very taut and it makes for an exceptionally well-told and gripping story - but it is a good deal more than that, I think. For once, the publisher's hype is close to being justified; I think Malcolm MacKay really is a remarkable new voice in crime fiction and one that I enjoyed very much. I will certainly be looking out for the next in the trilogy, and I recommend this one very warmly indeed.
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29-year-old Callum MacLean is a hit man in Glasgow. He works freelance for the city’s various crime organisations and he’s known for being good at his work. When Frank MacLeod, a senior gunman working for Peter Jamieson’s organisation needs a hip replacement, he suggests that Jamieson use MacLean for a job he needs doing. Lewis Winter – a middle-aged drug dealer who’s always been a small time loser – is encroaching on Jamieson’s territory and he seems to have serious backing. Jamieson wants him taken out. MacLean takes the job but he’s worried that it’ll lead to Jamieson wanting more from him, more than he’s willing to give …

Malcolm Mackay’s debut crime thriller is a tightly written, taut Tartan noir tale of hit men and crime syndicates in Glasgow. I loved the clipped, efficient writing style and the way Mackay swaps between the different characters to flesh out the seedy, violent world in which they operate. The plot itself is slim – it’s all about the hit and the aftermath – but the psychologies at play and the way the characters make decisions based on the information available to them kept me gripped. These are not nice people and Mackay is quick to strip away the supposed glamour of their sordid lives but at the same time, it’s very easy to empathise with their dilemmas, particularly Callum, a cold, emotionless loner who knows the perils of getting too close to an organisation. All in all, I thought this was a great book that kept me hooked from beginning to end and I will definitely be reading the sequel.

I liked the way Mackay spreads the action between the various player in the tale – my favourite chapters being those featuring Callum, Lewis and Lewis’s girlfriend, Zara as they provide additional information on each other’s characters and the background to this situation. Even though the plot’s pretty simple, there’s a lot of tension here both from the build up and the aftermath and I enjoyed the politics at play between the different criminal organisations and the way that each character seeks to use other people for their own ends. Although the book works as a stand-alone story, there’s still a lot of potential through the wider storyline of the threat to Jamieson’s organisation for the wider trilogy, which I will definitely be checking out.
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on 2 November 2013
I've read a number of positive reviews of The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter so I thought I'd give it a go. The story focuses on MacLean's life as a hitman, setting out his observations as to what makes a successful career, his worries about being drawn into an organisation rather than operating as a freelance, and the lead up and aftermath of killing Lewis Winter. The tale has its moments and the almost documentary style narrative is an interesting approach. However, sometimes a book clicks for a reader and other times it doesn't and I never really warmed to the story. Mackay's writing voice felt too detached, there was no sense of place and story could have been happening anywhere, and I never built an emotional connection to the characters or the tale. As a consequence, although the book has it merits it unfortunately left me a little cold.
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on 27 September 2013
It wasn't a bad read but I had higher hopes. In a novel about organised crime in Glasgow, I'd hoped to see some of Glasgow in it but it could have been set in any location with no references to the city or landmarks, which affected it's authenticity.

The short sentence staccato style has it's place as part of any novel but a full novel of short sharp sentences became wearing. I accept it's the author's style but it's somewhat limited.

The author's research into police procedure was unforgivably poor. You only need to have had limited dealings with the criminal justice system in Scotland to know that we don't arrest people on suspicion of anything, however they do in England. The Detective Inspector would also have had to drop several pay scales to complete the tasks he was given by the author.

I was initially drawn to the book after I heard a review of the 2nd book in the trilogy. I decided to start at the beginning. I think I'll leave it at that.
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VINE VOICEon 11 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The story is set in the Glasgow underworld, it's the story of a request for a contract killing and it's consequences.

The writing style is a bit unusual and I haven't read anything in this style before, it's a pared down sort of story telling which fits the tone and style of the book. There's not much padding. If you enjoy stories that spend pages and pages describing what characters look like and lavish descriptions of locations you will not find them here.
The book is very character driven and does bounce from one character to another which I thought would be confusing but found I could follow the story easily. One thing I liked was that although it is set in Scotland the author stayed away from using huge amounts of local dialect which I always struggle to read.

Despite being a story of gangsters and hit men there is surprising little violence in the book and what is there is written in quite a dispassionate way, for example when a hit is done there is no gory description it's all played down.

I found all the main characters unlikable to some degree but both mob and police for me seemed very well written. Despite not liking the main protagonists I got an ambivalent feeling to the main character, very similar to Day of the Jackal.
I did enjoy reading this book the style for me was fresh and the story moves along briskly.

The book is apparently the first in a trilogy and although the main story plot finished to a reasonable conclusion there were lots of plot threads left open for the next books to pick up on.

I will be getting the next one as for me this story is worth following.
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on 11 November 2015
The book tells the story from the viewpoint of each of main characters - all but one is male. This is an interesting way of taking the reader with you. It attempts to give an insight into the motivation of each. None of the characters is particularly likeable, and why should any of them be - professional murders, drug dealers, corrupt policemen form the bulk of the cast. The main question for me was does the author get under their skin, into what started them down the road they are on, how do they live with the terrible things they do? In my view, he attempts to, but doesn't quite achieve it: maybe he didn't intend to.
My main criticism is the author purports to locate the action in Glasgow: it isn't . There is nothing about the unique atmosphere or distinctive cultures that make it what it is. There is no appreciation of the gulf between the well heeled and those living in areas where life expectancy is the lowest in the UK. There is nothing of the sectarian divide that has tainted the west of Scotland. Equally, the book gives nothing of the warmth nod humour that makes Glasgow famous. No street or area is named or described. My advice to the author is if you set your novel in a location, know it and let it become a major character in your story.
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on 5 February 2013
This is the first in a planned trilogy of books set in the Glasgow criminal underworld and based on a freelance hitman. In this first book he is employed to kill the titular Lewis Winter, a drug dealer near the bottom of the totem pole.

The story itself was interesting enough. More interesting was the writing style and tone. Mackay has clearly read a few Lee Child books, noted the use of non-grammatical sentences, and turned it up to eleven or twelve. Like this. But more so.

The tone is detached and clinical. Mackay leads us through the thought processes of all the characters involved. No one makes any judgements, least of all Mackay.

Arguably it's all a little too cold and clinical, and it's difficult to actually care about any of the characters, but the story romps along, holding the interest, and the style is refreshing and amusing.

I am planning to read the remaining books in the trilogy when they are published.

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on 16 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Scotland has punched well above its weight for years when it comes to supplying us with fine, gritty crime writers. I'm not going to name them - those of you interested in this book will surely have heard of them all before. And to that list of luminaries, you can add the name of Malcolm Mackay.

The book is short, sharp and provides plenty of shocks - three essential components of the Tartan Noir style. But Mr Mackay is obviously familiar with a lot of American crime fiction too, because he's thrown a huge spoonfull of their edginess into the mix. His writing voice is laconic, restrained even, and this is a superior debut. Books two and three in the trilogy are already on my Amazon 'Wish List'.
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on 31 July 2014
I'm a huge crime fiction fan but I was really surprised and disappointed by this one - especially considering the hype it received. Part of the art of dramatic story writing is to 'show' rather than 'tell', but in this book Mackay spends an absurd amount of time telling us about what the characters do (or have done, drowning us in backstory) and what they are thinking (or even planning). It's far more stimulating to show us this information in the form of action, rather than take us away from the story to reel off information. I like to see characters do things, rather than think about doing them. The main character (the hitman) is a bit of a dour drip but that doesn't have to matter if the prose is written in a compelling way, but it isn't. The constant 'telling' us of things just slows things down, and makes a mockery of the fast-paced, taut thriller the PR people behind this book claim we can expect. A golden rule of crime fiction is to also have something go wrong on a big operation - the hit on Lewis Winter unfolds exactly as the hitman has visioned prior to the event, leaving us with no surprises or drama to enjoy or fret about on the lead's behalf. Nothing is on edge, we're not made to worry about anyone's welfare. There's also a massive plot hole towards the end where the hitman supposedly incriminates himself for the Winter hit by merely saying to a fellow criminal professional that he's 'been busy lately'. Far too loose a way to set up the revenge attack that Mackay needs for his final act. This is not a shining example of gritty, British crime fiction that the publisher has boasted about.
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