The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter: Malcolm Mackay (Glasgow Trilogy 1)

Never hit a target you don’t need to hit. Ever. One murder gets the police interested, two gets them excited.”

In The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, freelance hitman Calum MacLean takes a job from crime lord Peter Jamieson to kill a fairly lowlevel drug dealer who is poaching on Jamieson’s turf. Jamieson would normally order a hit from within his own organization, but with his star, aging hit man, Frank Macleod, out of commission, Jamieson is forced to turn to freelance.

According to Frank, Calum is “the best of the new breed,” quiet & methodical. Jamieson and his right-hand man, John Young, are scoping out, and ready to recruit, an eventual replacement for Frank, so hiring a freelance outsider is not only a necessity but may also be a way of building a permanent business arrangement. Jamieson’s “instinct for the nasty work was unrivalled,” which explains his success, and while he’s the brains, Young brings his tactical ability to the organization. “Separately they were talented; together they were lucrative.”

the necessary death of lewis winterWhen Jamieson hires Calum for the Lewis Winter hit, he considers Calum, who paces his jobs carefully, “not too hot, not too cold, but just right. A Goldilocks employee.” Calum, who prefers the freedom of freelance work, takes the one-off job with no reservations and applies his usual precautions. On the surface the job seems simple, but what he doesn’t know is that he’s stepping into a turf war between Jamieson and a challenger. Small-time Lewis Winter, under pressure from his much-younger, high maintenance girlfriend Zara Cope, has made a deal with another organization to move into Jamieson owned territory, and while this move brings a death sentence, it also ignites a series of fall out events.

And this is how this explosive hard-boiled crime novel opens:

It starts with a telephone call. Casual, chatty, friendly, no business. You arrange to meet, neutral venue, preferably public. You have to be careful, regardless of the caller. Regardless of the meeting place. Every eventuality planned for, nothing taken for granted. Tempting to begin to trust, tempting, but wrong. A person could be your friend and confidant for twenty years and then turn away from you in an instant. It happened, Anyone with sense remembers that bitter reality; those without sense will learn it.

This gripping tale is essentially a character study of a hitman. Calum is an unemotional, precision killer–a loner, an avid reader who prefers to keep his independence rather than trading it in for the “suffocating” security of working within an organization. As an independent, he can take or refuse jobs, and keep his criminal associations to a minimum, and so far, in spite of an already well-established reputation, he’s completely off the police radar. Calum understands that if he ever stops being freelance and takes a permanent job, “settling down,” as Jamieson calls it, he’ll be forced to take more risks, make more hits and will inevitably have a high profile with the police.  It seems to be a consensus between Frank, Jamieson and Young that as hitmen age, most of them seek the security of working within a firm. Calum isn’t at that point yet:

Does he want something long-term and lucrative?

Small flat, small car, small savings, but always enough. He works for need, not luxury. Long-term means risk, and risk is to be avoided. There are gamblers in the business, but they all lose eventually, and the cost is final. So don’t gamble. You don’t need to. There are two reasons why people do: one acceptable, and one not, The unacceptable reason is greed, the prospect of more money, which they don’t actually need. The other reason is the thrill, and that’s different.

While this is a character study of a hitman as the story unfolds against the backdrop of the contract on Lewis Winter, the novel’s other characters are well-drawn. Author Malcolm Mackay paints a cohesive, disturbing portrait of Glasgow’s impenetrable, violent criminal underworld with its trashy clubs, nervous snitches, lowlife drug runners, sleazy drug dealers, skilled drivers, bottom feeder loan sharks, and brutal muscle men. It’s in this world that grasping Zara Cope “a slut, but a smart one,” passes from one criminal to another and realizing that her shelf life is short, she grabs the malleable, pathetic Lewis Winter as her permanent meal ticket. Lewis “is small-time, always has been. He is a man cursed. Every success was swiftly followed by a crushing failure,” but with Zara pushing for more, Lewis is ready to make some risky moves for his new powerful friends. Zara’s greed, when combined with Lewis’s desire to impress her and keep her, is the catalyst for explosive violence.

With corrupt cops and fragmented flashes of criminal organizations, we see that the mantra isn’t so much crime solution or even crime prevention as much as it is “crime management.” Through carefully crafted scenes, Mackay shows us multiple sides of various complex characters as they move through the hierarchy of the criminal world in which taking orders is imperative, initiative may or may not be rewarded with a bullet, and the most important element in a crisis is having associates you can call for back-up. In this world, contract hits aren’t killings–they’re statements of power. While many novels focus on the individual within society, the focus here is the individual within the criminal organization.

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, written in a hard-boiled style that paradoxically welds an intimate knowledge of the criminal mind with an objective, factual distance is gritty, explosive and riveting, and it’s highly recommended for readers who prefer to read crime novels from the criminal perspective, but be aware that this is the first of a trilogy and after you turn the last page, you’ll want to continue the story in book 2: How a Gunman Says Goodbye.

review copy


Filed under Fiction, Mackay Malcolm

17 responses to “The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter: Malcolm Mackay (Glasgow Trilogy 1)

  1. Is it a new book or they republished an old one? Your review makes it timeless, which gives a special taste to the plot.

  2. It’s brand new. Publication date in America is April 21st. I’m almost done with the second book.

  3. I notice, like me, you got the US review copy (different covers!) I read this some time ago, but will re-read it and review it soon – although I’m loathe to after reading your review, as, well, it’s in a class of it’s own. I lived in some pretty rough areas of Glasgow, and girls like Zara are ten-a-penny – although looks are a commodity with a limited shelf-life. Brains and a bit of nous are appreciated in women far more, I can assure you. I did worry that readers would be left thinking Glasgow was a real “gun city” – in real life, Lewis Winter would, in the street parlance, get his “jaw ripped”/”face took aff”. He’s pretty small time. It’s the big guys get shot, who just won’t take a telling (see previous warnings!) It happens maybe once a year – a big case a few years ago involved a nasty little s***, Gerbil, being shot in an Asda car park on a weekday afternoon. You’d think they’d be caught immediately, wouldn’t you? Hundreds of witnesses! Three friends in the car with him! But the case against the guy arrested eventually collapsed…the whole story was like a Martina Cole novel, set in Glasgow (I’ve always thought that would be a lucrative line, don’t you agree?) But apart from that, I enjoy the books – and, to re-iterate superb review! I’m dying to get hold of The Night The Rich Men Burned!

    • I just ordered The Night the Rich Men Burned.
      Did you read all three books in the trilogy?

      Now the tag, Gerbil–that’s as bad as Clueless (book 2)

      • I haven’t! I was trying to eke them out to last as long as possible, but I really need to re-read number one (for review purposes, of course! A real hardship!) Then I’ll hit the rest. I’m hoping they’ll eventually put copies of Rich Men Burned for review as it’s still in hardback! Do you know the author actually lives in the Isle of Lewis and has only been to Glasgow a handful of times? I’d wondered why no street or area names were mentioned, but thought, hey, he must be going down the this-could-be-any-city arty route – when it’s presumably because he doesn’t know any! It’s great to get some real British noir (btw we had to laugh at Gerbil’s son’s name, written on his hideously OTT huge headstone – Konnor. With a K. Classy, eh?!)

        • I looked up the Gerbil case after your comment…… I just finished the second book and it was excellent, so now there’s number 3 left. Did you see that there’s another book coming out in August: Every Night I dream of Hell (great title) and looking at a synopsis on Amazon Uk, it’s about Nate Colgan and Zara Cope (the Necessary Death of Lewis Winter). I wonder if Mackay has a stash written already? Anyway, it’s certainly a way to hit the book scene with no less than 5 books in a year!

          • In the UK the five books didn’t come out in a year, but the first three came out quite rapidly, then a gap, then The Night The Rich Men Burned, then maybe a year later we have Every Night I Dream Of Hell (I’m with you – awesome title, as is Rich Men Burned! Hell, they all are!) The Night The Rich Men Burned seems chunkier than any of the first three. I must admit I was pretty surprised he had another ready for August, but having grown up on a Scottish island myself, it actually makes sense…! I agree with you – no place names goes with the style, and this could be any urban mass (I imagine to myself where it COULD be in the city; the sort of areas they’d live and work. I even picked the pool hall that’d be Jamieson and Young’s headquarters!) Caroline, I don’t know when you were in Glasgow – I lived there from 1986 – 2002 for Uni, then work, then a really hideous infection called necrotising fasciitis (flesh eating bug) forced me back to my parents’ to recuperate. Anyway, all cities have rough areas. Recently Glasgow’s really smartened itself up. The sensible thing is to educate yourself about where the no-go areas are, and avoid them. Even places like the Gorbals, which were notorious, are now desirable. Mr C is from Glasgow and he’s sick of the “oh isn’t that rough?” he hears whenever he says that. Hey Guy, re Gerbil’s case, can you believe the hitmen got in and out of a supermarket car park and no-one ID-ed them?! I always thought his “mates”were in on it as he was in the back of the car, not the front where he always sat. A sitting er, gerbil…

  4. It seems that this type of Crime Fiction is a refuge for the dark and extremely flawed anti – hero within somewhat popular literature. It seems to me that is a good thing as I think that more books should illustrate this aspect of the world.

  5. The focus on the criminal organisation and hierarchy sounds interesting. I’m wondering how Calum’s role might change as the trilogy progresses…

  6. It sounds very good. Funny that he doesn’t name streets or know the city, that would have been a huge concern for me since I’ve spent a lot of time in Glasgow and have family there, but it doesn’t seem to have bothered Crimeworm.

    However, I just started Willeford’s Miami Blues, which is itself the first of a series. Good as this sounds, I can’t justify another series. I’ll hang on and see how you get on with the next to and take a view then.

    • You’d think he’d have popped down from Stornoway to do some research! But there are some streets you wouldn’t wander down! As I said, until I read a profile I assumed it was meant to represent “anytown” -until he said he’d rarely been there! I DO generally like to see places I know and recognize mentioned, like you get in Denise Mina and the late Campbell Armstrong. Your Miami Blues sounds interesting.

    • It didn’t bother me Max, not that I know the city, but somehow this goes with the style IMO .
      Anything Willeford. He’s beyond compare.

  7. I’ve been in Glasgow a while back, right after visiting Edinburg and was slightly astonished. There were loads of places that didn’t feel safe and I’m not the anxious type.
    The opening is great and really strong. I’ll certinaly keep this in mind.

  8. This sounds ideal for the lover of hard-boiled crime fiction, so good to have a new author to look out for. Great review!

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