Award-winning novelist Malcolm Mackay has previously won praise for his works ‘The Glasgow Trilogy’. He returns with standalone novel, The Night the Rich Men Burned, which tells the story of several villainous characters wrapped up in the dark Glaswegian criminal underworld. The novel intertwines the stories of individuals trying to fight their way to ultimate success, prepared to do anything to beat their rivals. The ultimate focus of the novel is the rise – and demise – of main character Oliver Peterkinney.
Mackay manages to portray the lives of several characters, successfully creating multiple different personae to produce a gritty portrayal of what appears to be the harsh realities of criminal lifestyle. However, it seems the fundamental flaw of the novel is its lack of clarity. The character list that precedes the novel numbers over forty: a daunting amount of characters to try to familiarise oneself with. Admittedly, Mackay eventually manages to focus in on a smaller number, but not before creating considerable confusion for the reader. This unnecessary complication only succeeds in slowing the pace of what otherwise has the potential to be a fairly exciting action novel.
Mackay’s attempt to portray the emotional side of the characters also falls slightly flat. His attempt to generate sympathy for them is problematic, namely because the reader does not have a chance to strike up a relationship with anybody in depth. It could be argued that the villainous nature of many of the characters ensures it is difficult to make any emotional connection with them, as there are no intrinsically good people in the criminal underworld. However, it would seem that inclusion of characters such as Oliver Peterkinney’s granddad would offset this problem and help to create a more emotional side to the novel. The failure to do so can once again be attributed to Mackay’s unnecessarily over-complicated character list, as well as his inability to create characters displaying any real personality. The depiction of brutality is clear; it is the emotion, however, that is severely lacking.
In terms of style, the novel is an easy read. It is heavily reliant on dialogue, which seems rather fitting for the genre of the text. However, Mackay’s use of incomplete, clipped sentence structuring quickly becomes tiresome. His complete overuse of this narrative style quickly loses effect and over-simplifies the novel.
The idea for the plot seems promising and has potential. However, Mackay misses the mark slightly, creating a novel that is slightly too confused in its intentions to create the thriller he clearly intended. An easy, mildly entertaining read, but ultimately disappointing.