29 de maig de 2016

'The Night the Rich Men Burned': a bracing taste of 'Tartan Noir'

[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 29 may 2016]

Margie Romero


If ever there was a guy book, it’s “The Night the Rich Men Burned” by Malcolm Mackay, the young writer described in the British press as “the rising star of Tartan Noir.” Tartan refers to Scotland and Noir is the dark worldview in this type of crime fiction.
In “The Night the Rich Men Burned,” the 34-year-old author has created enough male characters to form opposing hockey teams. But unlike those sportsmen, the players in Mr. Mackay’s criminal underworld continually switch allegiances.
The action takes place in Glasgow, the Scottish city of just over one million people, but there is absolutely no description of quaint architecture or the sound of bagpipes.
The intense focus is on the changes that take place within a group of shady money lenders and debt collectors over a two-year period. Although Mr. Mackay makes no judgments, by the end readers will discern a powerful morality tale about how men make decisions and what drives them.
No one would consider Mr. Mackay’s writing style to be elegant, but it’s effective in a fast, contemporary way. For example: “There’s a different atmosphere when you’re under attack. Not scared. Thrilled, a little bit. Nervy, sure, but that’s not always a bad thing,” he says. Throughout the book these types of observations are made by a sort of play-by-play commentator, like an omniscient sportscaster who explains the game.
Using his choppy shorthand, Mr. Mackay nonetheless delves deeply into the psyches of his characters. Knowing their motives and dispositions makes these guys relatable, even when their behavior is abhorrent.
The book begins with Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, 19-year-old best mates who have been out of school for a year. They dutifully visit the Job Center, but “economy in the gutter and all that,” they can’t even find “some god-awful nine-to-five that would pay them buttons.” So when an entrée into the town’s “criminal industry” becomes available, they jump on it.
On their first violent foray they discover things about themselves and each other. Childish Glass, with a head full of dreams, is desperate to please his new boss, Marty Jones, a man “prone to misguided outbursts of ambition and emotion.” Peterkinney, a realist, is more willing to offend and finds out that he can be vicious.
Another player is Billy Patterson who, “lives this life because he enjoys it.” His right-hand man, lonely 29-year-old Alan Bavidge, “does this job because he’s reluctantly good at it.”
At the top of the nasty food chain is their rival Potty Cruickshank, 48, who inherited the biggest debt collection business in the city from his uncle, Rolly. The most tragic figure in the cast is probably Oliver’s grandfather, Arnie Peterkinney.
At the center of the story is a murder, but there’s no mystery about who did it. It’s a horrific yet riveting scene of action and emotion experienced by both victim and perpetrator.
There are perhaps a few lessons for legitimate businessmen to be found in “The Night the Rich Men Burned.”
Consider this: “Doesn’t matter what you feel or think about someone, you stay polite. Then, if you need to move against them, they’re less likely to see it coming. Good manners cost nothing. Bad manners can be very expensive indeed.” Or: “Patience is often profitable.” Or, “The aura of unattainability; nothing sells better.” The best advice: “Always stay on your feet. Golden rule.” Some surprising light emerges from the depths of Tartan Noir.
Margie Romero is the communications manager at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.




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