Hey there, Savvy Readers.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m basically obsessed with true crime podcasts. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to love our 50 Book Pledge Featured Read this week!
The Long Drop by seasoned crime writer Denise Mina is a standalone novel about Peter Manuel, a Scottish-American serial killer convicted of killing seven people between 1956 and 1958. I’d never heard of this case before picking up this book, but as it turns out, Peter Manuel is one of Scotland’s most prolific serial killers. He made such a big impression that Brian Cox loosely based his portrayal of Hannibal Lector on him in Manhunter. Scary.
So, this novel is based on a true story and a real crime, which makes it even more chilling. In 1958, William Watt, a successful businessman, finds three members of his family murdered in their home. He is arrested and jailed for the crime, but police are unable to charge him. Once released, Watt is determined to find the truth, even with public opinion against him. Then there’s a twist you just can’t make up: Peter Manuel, the murderer, contacts Watt and offers to help. Watt agrees to meet him in a bar, then goes on to spend the next twelve hours with him. What!?!
That’s where Denise Mina comes in, because no one really knows what happened that night. She reimagines the time William Watt and Peter Manuel spent together and spins it out, intercut with a narrative retelling of Manuel’s trial. It’s an unconventional way to tell the story, but it works. Tension runs thick in both storylines, beginning with Watt’s need for information, but swelling to encompass tensions between classes and social economic status, innocence and guilt.
Because while Watt may be the wronged party, he’s not the most admirable. In contrast, many of the criminals we meet, while not admirable either, have their own charm, confidence and endearing qualities. Particularly Manuel, who defends himself at trial and has aspirations of being an author. Of course, what does happen is that he is one of the last prisoners to hang at Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison before the UK abolished the death penalty. Mina does not shy away from giving us a complex and compelling look at human nature.
All of this unfolds against the backdrop of Glasgow in the 1950s, a tough city trudging towards modernity. I loved the dark, foggy atmosphere Glasgow created with its reputation as a rough, divided city that was truly embodied in the characters of Watt and Manuel. The Long Drop is a quick but thought-provoking read, perfect to curl up with on a stormy summer night.