It's part of a trilogy, and I was keen to read the sequel, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, featuring more about Calum's ageing mentor, Frank Macleod. There's the same long cast list at the start, now feeling even odder and somewhat ponderous, almost amateurish. And while the influences on Mackay are again obvious (Charles Willeford, James M Cain, Hammett, Derek Raymond) the book's velocity is slower than its predecessor's.
It's still a very good read, once you're committed to the stylistic quirks. But some of the more intimate situations described stretch credulity too far, and that rigid, laconic austerity in terms of location gives way to a sudden, throwaway pin-pointing of places. Renfrew. The South Side. The West End. The descriptions are over-long and tension is built too slowly. Only in the last section of the book do you become utterly locked in to Frank's fate and Calum's role in determining it.
Getting the sequels out quickly was obviously paramount in the publisher's mind. I can understand that they had a pulp pattern to follow and the third book is already being advertised in billboards on the Glasgow Subway. But How a Gunman Says Goodbye gives every indication of too much haste, and less-than-ruthless editing. Still weird and very readable though.
Liam McIlvanney's All the Colours of the Town was published two years ago and is also a thriller set in Glasgow. It too is part of a trilogy, I now discover, following the adventures of its central character, a journalist called Conway. The sequel, Where the Dead Men Go, is out in a couple of weeks.
McIlvanney is a very different writer from Mackay. He's an academic, a professor of Scottish literature in New Zealand. He has either a major family literary heritage to draw upon, or a big bad monkey on his back (or both) due to the fact that his old man is the godfather of tartan noir, William McIlvanney. And he loves, rejoices in, absolutely wallows in the glorious, sprawling detail of Glasgow. I suppose New Zealand would do that to a guy.
I loved All the Colours of the Town (only £1.19 for Kindle now. Just buy it!). It's convincing on internal newspaper politics, made me achingly homesick for the west end of Glasgow, and is one of the very few crime novels to tackle - and it does so with an impressive sense of history - west of Scotland sectarianism and its links to Northern Irish terrorism. While some of the writing is a tad florid and there is some Martin Amis-like verbal obscurantism, there are set pieces here that will stay with you forever: Trapped in a car during an Orange Walk in Larkhall; the various sounds of a tenement close when you're unexpectedly left at home on a weekday.
Only the bad-dad-who-never-sees-his-wean aspect of Conway's life feels like genre furniture. The rest is very assured, extremely gripping and non-formulaic. As for the sequel, well. We shall see, shortly.