Russel D. McLean
(Contraband, 2016); pbk, £8.99
And when I Die is the latest novel from Russel D. McLean, and tells a story of merciless revenge that plays out over the space of a fateful day. Like the author’s five previous novels, And When I Die is a gritty crime thriller, yet it represents a change for McLean in both setting and style. The east coast of Scotland is replaced by the west, the setting now being McLean’s new hometown of Glasgow in lieu of Dundee. The novel also differs from McLean’s previous work in that the narrative is split between the points of view of two characters, rather than the singular perspective of the lone gumshoe previously used. Also, instead of being detached, as onlookers piecing together the clues, the reader is thrust into the heart of a very dysfunctional crime family that is in the process of tearing itself apart.
The story is divided between the perspectives of the jilted and reluctant Kat who is dragged back into the seedy world of her notorious crime family, the Scobies, and the dangerously muddled, and (as it turns out) equally jilted, John. Using a female character as one of the lead points of view is a further foray into new territory for McLean which he achieves sympathetically and convincingly throughout. Kat’s initial aversion to being involved is conveyed effectively and is then gradually eroded as the story unfolds, with the revelation that her ex-partner John is not who he seems.
Mclean achieves another notable feat with the introduction of the antihero and unstoppable driving force Raymond Scobie, the cousin of Kat. Ray is so convincingly seen from Kat and John’s point of view that you have to consciously remember he is not another character through which you are being told the story, as you are never in his head, so to speak. However, he casts such a convincing shadow and is so detailed in his realisation on the page that it’s easy to make this mistake, and this seems to enrich the reader’s enjoyment of the story with the illusion of another perspective.
Through his efforts to provide drama and tension within the piece, you can be left quite breathless at the variety of insidious behaviour that is worked into the story. With Kat’s ever-darkening mindset, the erratic, unpredictable behaviour of John and the horror that is the rest of the Scobie family at large, Ray emerges as an unlikely fixed point, as a discriminating and predictable man, who does only what is necessary and no more. In this way the reader warms to Ray latterly, despite most of the things he does being quite reprehensible. Mclean succeeds in redeeming him due to a definable, if skewed, moral code and in the writing of Ray’s relationship with his cousin Kat you gain a sense of her growing empathy for him. You are left with no doubt who did most of the nasty things within the book, but you are also left with a feeling that all Ray does he does for an understandable, but not necessarily condonable, reason.
At the end of this novel, once you have regained your composure, you are left with the legacy of a satisfying standalone story that I personally found entertaining, well-paced and convincingly told. I would compare it to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher creation, but I feel this author did a more complete job of telling a story with more depth and urgency than is used in those novels. If you want a crime story with satisfying characterisations and a plot that keeps you hooked to the end, And when I Die is not going to disappoint. Good job, McLean.