Denise Mina at Creative Conversations review Pat Byrne
Denise Mina in conversation with Zoe Strachan.
University of Glasgow Chapel
Denise Mina was in sparkling form talking about her latest book ‘The Long Drop’, – based on true crime the subject being the serial killer Peter Manuel, who created terror in Glasgow and Lanarkshire in the 50s.
She kicked off by telling the audience ‘I love true crime’ and how she tended to have an interest in what might be considered ‘low art forms’. She made the point that, since she started out writing twenty or so years ago, ‘crime writing has become respectable’ and no longer has to be a secret vice.
When talking about ‘The Long Drop’ Denise didn’t have to be so careful about ‘reveals’ as the story about Manuel is already out there. However, there would be many in the audience, too young or not from these parts, that had never heard of him.
She explained that he did not fit into the usual formulaic serial killer mould, for example, he had no particular modus-operandi when it came to choosing his victims. He was, nonetheless, a creepy and particularly strange man. His fascination for Denise Mina was apparent as she explained how he would often break into houses, stay there for some time, taking delight in despoiling the home. For example, grinding mandarin oranges from a tin into the carpet and leaving imprints from his mucky boots on antimacassers.
Apparently, ‘he never shut up’. The prison officers, who were with him all the time while he awaited trial, were driven to despair and reported that he spoke ‘incessantly’. However, the notion of criminality, as pointed out by Denise Mina, is complex and some of the records made by the prison officers showed a more sensitive attitude: ‘the prisoner had a good night’s sleep.’
The writer spoke of the fine line that can be drawn between where criminal activity stops and normal behaviour begins.
One of Manuel’s most bizarre actions was to meet with William Watt, the father of the victims of the first family he had murdered. When Watt was released from prison after being suspected of the crime, the two spent a whole night together traipsing around Glasgow getting drunk. Mina’s interest in this encounter had been piqued a while back and was the basis for her play ‘Meet Me’ shown at OranMor in 2013.
She spoke of the response invoked when people came to see the play and being enthralled by the many stories people had to tell about Manuel. This included the view expressed that Watt was not in fact innocent and how people’s narratives often clashed with the official recorded version.
‘The Long Drop’ revisits this encounter between the two men and follows them throughout the night as they traipse through Glasgow’s mean streets, visiting seedy pubs and clubs frequented by criminals and cops.
Mina feels that Glasgow in the 50s was a vicious, chaotic city, perhaps well suited to give birth to the serial killer. A place where criminals and policemen rubbed shoulders in men only clubs such as the Gordon Club
She perused the question as to why women, who went to Manuel’s trial in their droves, were so fascinated by the killer. She also considered why women were such fans of crime writing and put forward the notion that they are possibly aware of their vulnerability and could be rehearsing for the very worse that could happen to them. She made the point that ‘women’s lives weren’t all about choosing Swatches.’
I don’t think there’s little doubt that women will constitute a healthy proportion of the fans of ‘The Long Drop’.
Pat Byrne, February,2018
*** Winner of the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year ***
Denise Mina’s next book is about a woman, who listens to a true crime podcast and takes off travelling through numerous countries obsessed by a particular crime. When asked if she had had to visit various countries for research purposes, Mina responded. ‘No, I just used places that I had lived or visited on holiday.’ It sounds like a great romp, nonetheless, and I’ll look forward to it.
Mind you, I’ll always have a soft spot for young Paddy Meehan and Alex Morrow, protagonists in her earlier books.
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