Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Three men meet in a sleazy restaurant in Glasgow: a criminal, a lawyer and a businessman.
William Watt is an affluent baker: the prime suspect in the murder of his wife, daughter and sister-in-law, charged but released for lack of evidence. Dowdall is his lawyer. Peter Manuel is a hardened criminal who claims to know the whereabouts of the gun used in the murders and, by implication, the identity of the killer. Watt’s intention is to secure the gun and clear his name. Dowdall is here as a reluctant witness and he soon leaves the others to their negotiating, finding Manuel repulsive, and deeply suspicious of the man’s motives.
From the restaurant Watt and Manuel embark on an astonishing pub crawl which lasts until dawn of the following day, their bewildering but fascinating garrulity partially illuminated by a visit to Manuel’s family, and culminating in an awe-inspiring confrontation with a villain as smooth and sinister as any in fiction. But then this despot is real. The Long Drop is a work of fiction based on fact. Mina’s genius is to fill the void behind the headlines. In doing so she enlightens us concerning the motivation of one person who achieved his lifelong ambition for fame, not with glory but puerility - of which he was blissfully unaware.
Ostensibly the author is objective, no more so than in the climax of this work that masquerades as a novel. For the year is 1957; before capital punishment was abolished. After the amazing speech in his own defence by the killer at his trial, the full horror of the situation comes home to the reader (as if it hadn’t been a looming shadow throughout with that menacing title). One forgets that eight people were murdered; all attention is focused on the posturing of a stupid, twisted soul while, behind the scenes, and with exquisite irony, the state’s executioner is observed as he goes about the meticulous preparations for the hanging.