The Long Drop

A lawyer, a businessman accused of killing his family and a lifelong criminal walk into a bar in 1950s Scotland. This isn't a joke, but rather the captivating opening gambit of Denise Mina's standalone psychological thriller The Long Drop. Fresh from prison, Peter Manuel claims to know who murdered William Watt's family. When Watt's lawyer departs, the remaining pair leaves the bar together and spends the next 12 hours drinking and scheming, each trying to gain the upper hand.

Manuel clearly has knowledge only the murderer should know, and Mina (Gods and Beasts) weaves the men's cat-and-mouse night out with Manuel's trial on several counts of murder months later. Those familiar with Scottish serial killers may know how events unfold: The Long Drop is based on a true story, with names unchanged, and the book's title is its own spoiler alert. But the gift here is not in the creation of a new tale so much as it is in the layered telling of one based on fact and the inspired reimagining of its details.

Mina is at her finest in form and substance. The alternating timelines escalate the tension as the investigation and trial spool toward a verdict. The courtroom scenes are particularly engrossing. Mina's matter-of-fact style gets more poetic as the trial proceeds; her ability to finesse a fully framed portrait of each witness with few words is on grand display. The Long Drop is a fascinating story of murder and madness, two guns with varied histories, multiple confessions and one man's plan to outsmart everyone around him. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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