The Night the Rich Men Burned

Written by Malcolm Mackay

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.


The Night the Rich Men Burned
Mantle
RRP: £7.47 / £15.29
Released: August 14, 2014
Kindle / Hbk

This is a stand-alone novel after Malcolm Mackay’s award-winning Glasgow trilogy, but the useful character sketches at the front show an overlap with his previous books.

The Night the Rich Men Burned is focussed entirely on the dog-eat-dog business of debt collecting and enforcement in Glasgow. It’s a world which is simultaneously lawless and strictly hierarchical. Almost every character is unscrupulous and many are violent, but they pay attention to the chain of command and the need to show respect, and they talk and frequently think about themselves as businessmen. This is the capitalist system seen through a grotesque lens.    

The Night the Rich Men Burned begins with two young men, Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, dipping their feet in the shark-infested pool of loans and punishment. Glass seems to be the ringleader while the quieter Peterkinney stands back and assesses. But, of course, it’s Peterkinney who turns out to be the really ruthless bastard, envisaging gaining control of the whole city by the time he’s 30, while Glass is hampered by his weaker nature and  -  a redeeming feature  -  his relationship with Ella, a prostitute. Interwoven with the rise of one young man and the spiralling fall of the other, are the narratives of three loansharks, each hovering between alliance and betrayal of the others. Above them are the senior figures who need to be placated and below are layers of hard men and enforcers. 

It’s a hard, unattractive universe which Malcolm Mackay handles in stylised fashion. The prose is clipped and efficient, and he moves easily between a bland external cityscape and the inner thoughts of his characters. It’s hard to tell them apart, sometimes, so similar are their responses in terms of fear, calculation and the need to maintain an image. And, apart from Ella and Peterkinney’s grandfather, there is an absence of likeable characters in The Night the Rich Men Burned, something which is occasionally seen as a fault. I’m not sure it is here, since Mackay has set out to produce a hard, polished surface. No handholds for sympathy.

Recommended. 

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