Peter Manuel was a convicted serial killer of seven people (and suspected of killing more) who cut his murderous swath through the Scottish countryside in the 1950’s. He was hanged in 1958 in Scotland. The title of “The Long Drop” is a reference to this event, along with the details that led to Manuel’s conviction.
In 1957, three family members were murdered in their home; William Watt, the husband and father of two of the victims, was a prime suspect. The author tells the fictionalized account of the night that Watt meets with Peter Manuel, after Watt was released after two months in prison for lack of evidence for the murders.
Watts hopes to get a confession from Manuel and to clear his own name permanently. Both men are less than stellar characters. They wend their way drunkenly through city bars experiencing several unpleasant encounters with others who enjoy late nights, among them criminals.
The story of Watt’s and Manuel’s lives, and their activities on the actual night of the murders, is told through events that unfold during their night of wandering. Interspersed throughout are chapters that detail Manuel’s trial, when he was finally convicted.
Manuel chooses to represent himself during his trial, and he proves to be unstable and delusional. No one believes any of the stories he uses in his defense. Watts serves as a witness and describes in detail what he learned from Manuel during their long night.
Seemingly, the two men have few redeeming qualities even though only one is a murderer. Watt’s trial uncovers him as a blustery adulterer. Manuel’s mother, the only person who can love him, knows her son is a murderer, but can't give up on him, even as she fears him.
Denise Mina, from Scotland, an acclaimed award-winning writer of crime stories, has written her first true account of a terrible time in northern Scotland about a man so notorious that he was called “The Beast of Birkenshaw”by the media.
Readers of true-crime stories will be entertained by this book and will appreciate the subtle details revealed during the hours of interaction between Watts and Manuel that lead the police to capture the notorious killer.