In a sense it’s the story of a killer behaving like an average worker

Malcolm Mackay

Malcolm Mackay

Everything is set from the first chapter. It’s the story of Calum McLean, a hitman who has to stop working solo and get into the organisation.
The threat of a steady and mandatory job, loss of freedom, questions that would concern any average worker.

Did you use the reference to The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham in order to announce Zara?

In all honesty, the reference is because The Painted Veil was the book I was reading at the time I started writing Lewis Winter. I wanted the reference to give the reader an idea of Calum, and his interests, first and foremost. The comparison of Zara to Kitty is interesting though, and I do think Walter Fane is a great literary creation.

Is this the story of a killer or an average worker?

In a sense it’s the story of a killer behaving like an average worker. Calum, and indeed Frank, have been able to separate themselves from the morality of what they do. To them it is a job, and the consequences of the job are considered in the same way any normal worker would consider them. They’re aware of the moral questions of what they do, they’re too smart not to be aware, but they have the ability to distance themselves from it, make it something entirely impersonal. It’s money, convenience and security, the same things that matter to most people.

This could be a procedural novel a la McBain, or the account of the transition between two hitmen.
But there is an offbeat tone, a way to tell a story with a lot of details, it seems you tried to write a new form of mystery.
Could you tell us what were your intentions in the first place?

I wanted to try and create a story that could get inside the heads of the kind of people who kill for money. To do that, I think you have to give as great a sense of person as possible, something more personal and less procedural. The tone of the novel is driven by the desire to create a character driven story. Also, I think any great story has to have a rhythm to it, a flow that can hold the reader’s attention. With these characters, and this story, the rhythm needed to be fast and the tone sharp.

The story takes place in Glasgow, except that you tell very little about this city. Why is that so?

Some novels benefit from having a strong sense of location, but some are better served to let the location fade into the background. This is a story of characters and their situation, and the location was always going to be secondary to that. Trying to create a powerful sense of place can sometimes come with the risk of reducing the strength of the characters.

The reader cannot identify with any of the protagonists since they are not more despicable than they are nice. Was it intentional?

I didn’t want all of the characters to be despicable, and hopefully there are some that readers can sympathise with. But most of them are people doing bad things. They are doing things that normal, decent people would never consider doing. More than that, they are doing it purposefully, knowingly. Calum is not killing people by accident, or because he’s being forced to. He has chosen this path, and is satisfied with his choice to begin with. A man who makes such choices is always going to be difficult, although not impossible, to love.