“He was a crook, yeah, but there was a limit to that. He took money, but he always left people breathing.”
With a title that has to be the best I’ve come across in years, Malcolm Mackay’s For Those Who Know the Ending opens with Czech transplant, gunman Martin ziptied to a chair in a Glasgow warehouse waiting for a grisly end. The book then takes us back in time to how the laconic Martin, desperate to find serious money in Glasgow, a town full of criminal gangs not interested in working with someone they don’t know, became involved with Usman Kassar. Usman usually works with his older dealer brother, but he also works jobs on the side, and that’s where Martin comes in. Word is out on the street that Martin is looking for work. Martin doesn’t like the looks of Usman, doesn’t take him seriously and considers him too flashy with “oversized headphones,” and a gangster swagger. Usman is confident that Martin will be desperate enough to take a chance:
Always took men like him a while to realize that their celebrity only burned bright in their own neck of the woods, and now they had left their home city some younger spark would be filling that vacuum.
Martin left Czechoslovakia under murky, desperate circumstances, and his savings are running out when he meets Joanne, and moves in with her. The pressure is on to start contributing, and so Martin, who’s lived this long because he doesn’t take chances, takes a chance on a job scoped out by Usman Kassar. According to Usman, it’ll be easy: it’s a two-man in-and-out job, hitting a bookie who is a front man for the Jamieson criminal organization. That’s the beauty of the job according to Usman–the fact that it’s dirty money means that the police won’t be involved….
The job doesn’t go quite as planned, but Martin is already in deep with Joanne and with bills rolling in, he takes a second job with Usman.
For Those Who Know the Ending reunites us with some of characters we’ve met before: most notably Jamieson ‘security consultant,” Nate Colgan. With Jamieson still in prison, and other criminal organisations always eager to grab Glasgow turf, this is a job that Nate can’t afford to screw up. And when Martin and Usman cross Nate, there will be hell to pay.
The book is written from the criminal view: so while the police are out there somewhere else in Glasgow, they have very little to do with the day-to-day concerns of organised crime. Instead we see the lonely lives of these career criminals (men and a few women) who’ve decided to pass on the complications and exposure of family life. But then there’s also Martin, who would like to be able to afford a family, and Gully, Nate’s ultra calm, aging sidekick whose sad, barren home life is carved by grief. The plot explores the dangers of ego, gangster swagger, and how being a legend in one’s own mind can sabotage clear thinking in an industry in which you survive by keeping quiet and being useful. These men aren’t romanticized; they have no conscience, and killing is just part of the job. Author Malcolm Mackay explores the abyss between robbery, GHB, and the ultimate crime: murder.
Gully knows that you don’t just kill a man and move on from it because you’re making money out of the deal. That isn’t how it works, not for normal people. He’s seen enough in his time, knows they’re not normal people. For men like him, like Nate, and like Usman, killing a man is a step out of the life you know, and there’s no turning back.
Another marvellous gritty crime novel from Mackay–a writer who continues to dominate Scottish crime fiction.