Born into one of Glasgow’s most brutal crime syndicates, Kat Scobie has fought long and hard to forge her own path in a world where no choices are given. She thought she’d escaped. She thought she was different. But as her relatives gather to mourn the death of their most feared son, Kat is drawn inexorably back into their hellish world. And she’s not the only Scobie who resents the family dynamic. Because Ray Scobie isn’t dead. He’s near fatally wounded and hell-bent on revenge, and he knows his own father ordered his murder. Now the only person who can stop the carnage is Kat’s ex-lover John, a cop who’s so deep undercover he’s started to lose himself. With his cover crumbling around him, John’s about to discover that families can be murder…
And When I Die from Russel D McLean proved an interesting read from the outset, treading the path of established gangland writers, Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers et al, by focussing mainly on a female character either at odds with, or fully immersed in the male-centric power of a gangland family. Not being a fan of the aforementioned writers, what McLean provides here is a refreshing antidote in a usually cliché filled genre, in this tense gangland thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Glasgow.
Told from different narrative viewpoints, what McLean perfectly executes is a sensitive and believable depiction of a woman torn between family loyalty, but ingrained with a desperate need to cut these ties and strike out on her own. Kat Scobie had temporarily escaped her violent background, and the relationship she had formed with unbeknownst to her an undercover police officer, John Grogan who so easily infiltrated her family. Returning to Glasgow for the funeral of a family member, Kat is drawn back into the power play of her family, and John’s influence, at considerable physical and emotional stress to herself. She proves an incredibly empathetic and noble character, with a fierce sense of loyalty to one relative in particular, Ray, who finds himself physically threatened, and forced into a violent course of action, inveigling Kat in his personal vendetta. She finds herself increasingly conflicted, and McLean’s characterisation of the emotional turmoil she experiences is absolutely spot on throughout, effortlessly taking the reader with her, and enabling us to fully experience the gamut of emotions she experiences and seeks to come to terms with. McLean carefully interweaves incidents from her past, to bolster the ties between herself and Ray, and there is a taut and uncompromising journey for her as the book progresses.
Equally, McLean imbues his tough male protagonists with a conflicting range of emotional and violent impulses. Ray has a little understood physical condition that negates his ability to feel pain, and undercover officer Grogan is beginning to lose all sense of self due to his deep infiltration into the dark and violent world of the Scobie family, but increasingly conflicted by the powerhouse of emotions that Kat raises within him. McLean carefully manipulates the dialogue and rhythm of speech in his male characters, and in a similar style to fellow countryman Malcolm Mackay, exhibits a wonderful pared down, rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose. With Kat, there is more enhanced interior and exterior monologue, reflecting the differing emotional sensibilities between her and the male characters, and her deeper examination of the inherent danger she finds herself drawn into on her return to the family fold. In his characterisation of both Ray and Grogan, the reader is pivoted from feelings of repulsion to empathy and back again, as both demonstrate a kind of twisted nobility, counterbalanced by selfishness and a violent impulse to survive in this dark world.
McLean was a completely new to me author, and having a previous five thrillers to his name, is a writer I shall be definitely be seeking out again on the basis of And When I Die, a compelling, spare, thoughtful and at times brutally violent thriller. How could I have missed out on him? Recommended.
(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)