Denise Mina is a phenomenal writer. She can take a subject as unpleasant as Peter Manuel’s killings and turn it into a compulsive read. She just hooks you in and convinces you that you must read the next page. If you think that you are going to be able to put this book down, you are very much mistaken.
So who was Peter Manuel? He was a multiple murderer, who committed his crimes in Glasgow in the late 1950s. He does not fit the usual profile of a serial killer in that there was not always a sexual motive in his crimes. Some people he murdered for the sheer pleasure of it. Some he raped and murdered. It seems to me that his motivation was to make himself important, to boost his own self-esteem by bullying people and making them afraid of him. He was a nasty little man, both in his physical and mental stature.
What is extraordinary about this book is that Denise Mina convinces you that you want to read it. She introduces you to the Glasgow of the 1950s, a city that was still hankering to be the “second city of the empire”; a grimy, dirty declining industrial city; a city of hard men and long-suffering women; a city riven by sectarian violence; a city of slums, where inside toilets were unheard of, and a city of wealth, and merchants and lawyers and power.
This was the city in which Peter Manuel grew up, the son of a Glasgow hard man and a devout Catholic mother. He grew up and went from bad to worse, graduating from petty crime and robbery to rape and murder. This is the story of his progress through the Glasgow underworld. But he is no Jack Shepherd, cocking a snook at the authorities, nor does he have the charm of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He is someone who aspires to be important in his own vicious way.
Denise Mina takes us through the story, introducing a Rogues’ Gallery along the way – bent lawyers, gangland bosses, thieves and petty criminals. Then there are the authority figures – priests and policemen and politicians who are certainly no better than they ought to be and probably not as good. And casting its shadow over all of this is Glasgow itself, from the tenements of The Gorbals to the wealth and power of Trades’ House and Merchants’ House.
Peter Manuel could have been born and brought up anywhere, but he was a Glaswegian and this is a Glaswegian story. I am not sure that the Glasgow Tourist Board will be too happy with Denise Mina.
But you as the readers have a treat in store.