Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.
Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.
Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?
I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…
There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.
For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.
Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.
(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)