I’m reading, reviewing, and ranking the nominees for Best Paperback Original in the Mystery Writers of America Edgar awards, and Malcolm Mackay’s book, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, is the penultimate entry. In my last review, I had confessed to a love of England/ Ireland/ Scotland/ Wales police procedurals. Necessary Death is a crime novel set in Scotland, but from the opposite POV: protagonist Calum MacLean is a hit man.
It’s Mackay’s first published novel – the first book in a trilogy- and the author has made quite a stir over the pond, winning a prestigious award over more established authors Ian Rankin and Val McDermid.
MacLean’s a man at home in the Glaswegian underworld. He’s and experienced and careful man, just 29 years old, but well aware that the lifespan of a hitman is not long. He’s pondering how long he should keep up his chosen profession, and what he might do afterwards. He yearns, distantly, for a real life. A girlfriend, wife, family, connections. What he has is business associates, very few of whom he actually trusts. MacLean stays freelance because he doesn’t want to be owned, but it keeps him isolated.
His job this time: to kill Lewis Winter. Winter is a bit of a sad sack, a penny ante drug dealer in love with a woman almost half his age, who is pushing him to move up and support her in the style to which she would like to become accustomed. As a result, Winter is taking some risks and stepping on toes. MacLean takes on the job, but the ripple effect of this murder for hire has an impact on almost everyone involved, including Calum MacLean himself. By the end of the book, his life is irrevocably changed.
Mackay is an insightful author, demonstrating deft plotting, a great ear for dialogue, and believable characters. He writes in short, direct sentences, with a strong sense of rhythm. A hitman protagonist may be a well-worn cliche, but people love them, and Mackay is treating this subgenre well. I will definitely read books 2 and 3 in the trilogy.
Compared to the other nominees for Best Paperback Original, I’ve got to put it high on the list. In terms of quality from a literary perspective, it probably ranks above Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl. In terms of fun, though, McKinty’s got Mackay beat… nothing fun at all about Necessary Death. And Lou Berney’s Long and Faraway Gone keeps the top spot.
Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original
- The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
- Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
- The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
- Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
- What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan