Betrayal, kinship, revenge, and violence: Malcolm MacKay’s conclusion to the ‘Glasgow Trilogy’ has all the elements that should compose a riveting crime novel – and yet there is something missing.
The Sudden Arrival of Violence takes us back into the criminal underworld of Scotland’s largest city and follows the last job of Peter Jamieson’s all-too-talented gunman, Calum MacLean; a man desperate to escape the addictive life of organised crime. Despite multiple attempts to transcend his gangster roots, MacLean is trapped on the wrong side of the law by a lifetime of allegiance to the mob. However, can the sudden deaths of two men – a money-man and a grass – present him with the opportunity to break free, and forge an honest life of his own?
The plot itself is well crafted and paced, capturing the ability prove thrilling and terrifying without pushing beyond the realm of possibility. There are no mafia dons or skinhead bruisers with gold teeth; rather, the novel is entirely grounded in a realistic depiction of Glaswegian gang culture.
MacKay is meticulous in his portrayal of the ordinary criminal; there are no glorified mobsters of New York or Miami, but entrepreneurs in a city where crime is often the only ladder out of poverty. Despite their bloodthirsty and brutal businesses of drugs, murder and fraud, the private lives of the characters prove them to be unsettlingly normal people.
Indeed MacKay’s depiction of organised crime is in many ways a 21st century reworking of John le Carré’s cold war fiction; playing on our pre-existing fantasies of criminal profession and gang underworld.
However the comparison ends there. Unlike le Carré’s sharp and frighteningly subtle writing style, MacKay’s narrative voice is jarring to read. The short and stripped back sentence structure is effective in small doses, but continuing it for near four hundred pages is overindulgence. What this achieves is a fragmented storyline which distances the reader from the characters.