In Waging War to Shake the Cold the author, Chic McSherry, has achieved something I didn’t think was possible – he made me empathise with someone who was basically unlikeable at the beginning of the novel. When I started reading, I wanted Kats, an ex-army veteran turned gangster, to be apprehended and made to pay for his actions, but by the end I wanted him to succeed in his endeavours - causing such a change of heart is no mean feat on the author’s part.
We follow Kats as he unwittingly causes the death of an innocent woman. From her he picks up some information on which much of the storyline hangs, although Kats himself is unaware of this at the time. For me, this is the only part of the plot that comes across as less than credible. It feels a bit too much like a plot device that this person should not only be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that she just happens to have the evidence with her for Kats to pick up.
Apart from the above quibble, this is a well told and compelling story. I found it hard to put down once I got into it – and that was even while I was unsympathetic to Kats!
Kats retires from active duty in Iraq to find that the country is offering less than nothing to its returning heroes. Unable to find work and becoming increasingly frustrated with the attitude of those he left behind, Kats is drawn into a life of crime. The villains in this story are psychotic and violent, but they act always in character, so the violence is both credible and chilling. Kats himself is not above using techniques learned while in the army to get any necessary information, but again, he acts in character, using just enough to get the job done and not simply for the sake of inflicting pain on another.
Throughout I felt as if I were in the shady and frightening world inhabited by the gangsters controlling Glasgow’s underworld – not a comfortable feeling. And this is not a comfortable book, but it is a gripping one. I defy anyone to stop reading halfway.