"Glasgow: The Real Mean City" by Malcolm Archibald brings the modern reader face to face with accounts of crime and punishment in the second city of the Empire during the 1800s. There's sometimes a tendency to assume that the past was occupied by quieter and more idealised versions of the places we know today. Malcolm Archibald punctured this totally ill-founded assumption for Dundee when his "A Sink of Atrocity: Crime in 19th Century Dundee" was published in 2012. "Glasgow: The Real Mean City" does the same job for what was, and remains, Scotland's largest city. As the author points out in his introduction, Glasgow grew remarkably rapidly during the century, and some of the consequences were far from pleasant: a one sixteenth of a square mile area (i.e. a quarter of a mile by a quarter of a mile) of central Glasgow was at one point home to 150 shebeens (illegal and unlicensed drinking establishments) and 200 brothels.
Malcolm Archibald is an outstanding writer who can take what in other hands might seem a dry account of a long series of incidents and give them a life and vibrancy that engages the reader. In doing so he avoids any tendency to the sort of over-sensational approach that can blight some "true crime" books, and the result is a perfectly balanced account that is varied, interesting, well written, and keeps you turning the page.
Within the covers the reader finds an introduction that sets the scene, followed by a series of chapters, each of which looks at a different type of crime. "Deadlier than the Male" looks at crimes done by women, while another chapter looks at crimes in the area around Glasgow. Some chapters, such as those looking at assaults, jewel robberies, fraudsters, poisoners, murders, and crimes against children and women would probably feature in a compendium of this sort about any large city. Others look at crimes that were more specific to Glasgow. A chapter on Nautical Crime considers crimes that arose from the city's role as a centre for shipbuilding and trade, including a spectacular (though miraculously non-fatal) accident caused by steamers racing to be the first to get their passengers to their destination. Meanwhile the chapter entitled "Orange and Green" looks at the city's inglorious history of sectarian crime.