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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Every Night I Dream of Hell by Malcolm Mackay

Mulholland Books, 304 pages, $26

What’s the difference between a corporation and a crime gang? Not much. There’s bureaucracy, protocol, board meetings, equipment theft, spies and double-dealers, and sudden employee termination. And security services.

Nate Colgan is a single father and beats people up for a living. He’s “security” for one of the factions under the umbrella of gang boss Peter Jamieson. Unfortunately, Jamieson is in jail, and there is a quiet reorganization going on that threatens to be not so quiet in the end. In aid of understanding this organizational hierarchy, author Malcolm Mackay has included a cast of characters list at the beginning of the book. It does help assuage the anxiety over who is doing what to whom, as the characters relentlessly roll through the story for a while.

In the end, it boils down to Nate and his new trainee, Ronnie Malone, a young man in love, with a need to belong to the toughest organization in Glasgow, Scotland. Didn’t I mention that you have to read this book with a Scottish accent? Joining a long line of dark, moody, noirish, Scottish writers, Malcolm Mackay has been producing a fistful of dark, moody, noirish, Scottish books.

Nate’s long-gone girlfriend and mother of his nine-year-old daughter, Zara Cope, contacts him. She wants to talk. As a by-product of his job, Nate has learned to shut down most of his emotions. Zara, however, can still prick at his shell a little. He learns she’s in town with a new flame, and the new flame is out for a toehold in the now unstable criminal world of Glasgow. Normally, Nate would punch out the competition and send them running back to where they belong, but Zara is his daughter’s mother, however meaningless and inaccurate that title may be.

Nate senses the possibility of some double-dealing going on, but who would be behind it? (Remember, Mackay has provided a long list of possibilities.) Eighty percent of the chapters are first-person narratives by Nate. The few that aren’t focus on DI Michael Fisher, an honest cop, and Zara.

Near the end of Mackay’s story, which had progressed in a fairly straightforward manner, I couldn’t help but think that there surely had to be another brogue ready to drop, such is the nature of crime storytelling these days. So, yes, there were a few brogues tossed about.

In the end, it really is Nate’s story. It is his part in the complex unravelling of the loyalties. It is his life and what he and others have made of it. It is his love for another human being, his daughter, that taps at the hard carapace he has constructed. The title, “Every Night I Dream of Hell,” is ironic in a way, because Nate has a hard time sleeping. He operates almost mechanically at times, even when he should be on high alert. “Every Night I Dream of Hell” should be subtitled, “And Every Day I Live in Hell.”

Actually, “Every Night I Dream of Hell” is a great short story jacketed by a compendium of what it takes to run a criminal organization. It can be fascinating if you take it that way, and I often found it interesting.

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