The Long Drop takes us back to Denise Mina’s much-loved and lamented Glasgow, but to the Glasgow of sixty years ago when a serial killer brought fear into Glaswegian homes. In the Watt family home, three women were murdered while the father William Watt was away fishing, or crafting an alibi in the opinion of the local police.
Watt is out of jail, but still suspect in the eyes of the police and the public and meets with Peter Manuel, a criminal who offers up information on the identity of the real killer. Through a long, drunken night, Watt and Manuel and we readers come to understand more clearly what happened that night.
I admire Denise Mina for constantly experimenting. She is not one of those authors who write thirty versions of the same story and you will never once feel that key character tics such a cutting hair with nail scissors have been programmed into her keyboard macros. After three or four books with a character, she begins again. The Long Drop, fictionalizing a true crime, is a dramatic shift for Mina and I respect her for it. It is why I will never shy away from a new book from Mina, she does not rest on her laurels or replay old tricks, no matter how successful.
However, I was not particularly satisfied with The Long Drop. The narrative jumps from the drunken night with Watt and Manuel in 1957 to the trial in 1958. In a way, Mina’s narrative of that night is perfect, it feels hallucinatory, absurdist, and captures the off-kilter camaraderie of drunks perfectly. Reading it made me feel slightly drunk. As a writer, that is an amazing ability. I just don’t like feeling drunk. It’s a personal preference.
I also wonder if she is fair to William Watt. Society judged him innocent. She does not. Certainly he was an unfaithful husband, but that does not make him anything more than a jerk. Her version does make the story more compelling and of course, half the novel is the hallucinatory drunken night. The book’s assumptions inspired me to research more, and there is a wealth of information on the internet. You can even listen to Peter Manuel describe the murder of the Smart family. It is chilling how clever he thinks he is in the retelling.
The Long Drop will be released May 23, 2017 in the U.S.. I received an advance galley from the publisher through NetGalley.
- The Long Drop at Little, Brown/Hachette Group
- Denise Mina author site
- National Archives records on Peter Manuel