This was a really interesting novel about a real-life serial killer in Scotland in the 1950’s. I say interesting because it wasn’t quite like anything else I’ve read. It’s not a mystery or a thriller, or a true crime novel. It’s a little closer to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, although I hesitate to compare anything to that book.
Much of the novel takes place at two different times, each after the crimes were committed: the trial in 1958, and a December night in 1957, when the accused and another man met and went out drinking. William Watts was accused of murdering his wife, daughter, and sister-in-law in their beds while he was away on a golf trip. Desperate to clear his name, he meets up with Peter Manuel, a hardened criminal who says he knows where the gun is that killed Watts’ family. The men meet up to talk business, and somehow end up drinking together until morning. In that time they go to three different bars and Watts’ brother’s house.
While the meeting between the two men is fictionalized, the facts about the crimes and the two men are true. Mina uses this one long night as a way to explore the thinking of both men and what might have happened. Through the trial we’re given the facts of the case, but as you read this book you don’t quite know which man is guilty, Manuel or Watts.
I read this book not knowing anything about the real life case. I didn’t even know it was based on real life until the end. I enjoyed this book because it really focuses on getting into the heads of these two not-very-nice men, and the interplay between them. At the same time it shows us a glimpse of the underworld in 1950’s Glasgow (and I do love all things Scottish).
I suspect American readers might be a little put off by the book, because it’s not what we’re used to. There isn’t a lot of courtroom drama (although I found the trial particularly interesting) and no heart-racing ending. But there is a slow unfolding of what might have happened and why.
I really enjoyed reading about some of the legal aspects of a criminal trial in Scotland in the 50’s. I was most surprised by how quickly everything happened, from arrest to trial to sentence, and that’s all true. I was also interested to learn that Scotland (Great Britain) eliminated its death penalty in 1965.
Author Mina is a Scottish crime writer and playwright. She was born in Glasgow and has published several mystery series as well as graphic novels, in addition to documentaries on TV and radio. This book counts towards my Reading All Around the World challenge.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Little, Brown and Company. The book was released May 23, 2017.