Fresh Blood

Name: Liam McIlvanney

Title of Book: All the Colours of the Town

'...McIlvanney’s writing gives an insight into how Northern Ireland’s recent past continues to impact on the present and even, the future. '

Gerry Conway is a journalist based in Glasgow who is going through a dry patch. He receives a tip off promising unsettling information about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons. His initial instinct is that this story won't interest anyone and certainly won’t warrant space in "The Tribune". However, having nothing better to do, Conway does a little digging. His curiosity grows; his opinion changes and the leads proliferate. Conway travels to Belfast to meet the people who might have more information that will put more meat on the bones of his story.

Reading articles about the 'troubles' and seeing footage on the news over the years doesn’t prepare Conway for the sectarian violence of the past. A past that still lives in the hearts of many of the people he meets and he is shocked by the prejudice and hatred he encounters even now. The story gets under his skin and Conway soon grows obsessed with Lyons and all he represents. As he digs deeper, he comes to understand that there is indeed a story to be uncovered; and that there are people who will go to great lengths to ensure that it remains hidden, including the murder of an inquisitive journalist.

Liam McIlvanney, to borrow the words of one of his own characters, is a man who knows his way round a sentence. He has a poetic turn of phrase that lifts this novel way above the ordinary.

Gerry Conway is an intriguing character who McIlvanney comfortably gets under the skin of, writing him into a good deal more than a collection of words. He is skin and bone, needs and drives... and humanity. The scenes where he details his interactions with his sons are both moving and insightful.

The 'troubles', although technically over, are very much alive in the lives of the characters of this novel and McIlvanney’s writing gives an insight into how Northern Ireland’s recent past continues to impact on the present and even, the future. That makes this novel not only a welcome addition to the crime lexicon, but I would argue also makes it an important read. Like others in the genre this hugely capable writer is pushing the boundaries of what we might expect from modern crime writing.

This novel has elements of the literary, historical and criminal. All the Colours of the Town is a book that manages to be all these things while maintaining the thrill and feel of a contemporary thriller. If you like insight and intelligence with your action, then you’ll surely enjoy this.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I write crime fiction. I try to capitalise on the strengths of the genre, as I see them. But mostly what I’m trying to do, when I sit down at my desk, is make my sentences as good as I can make them.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I like series. Chandler’s Marlowe is the gold standard, but I like Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder mysteries and Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro books. Walter Mosley’s Leonid McGill series (whose first instalment, The Long Fall, appeared this year) looks to me like the real thing.
3) The McIlvanney name comes with a huge pedigree in literary circles, did you find that daunting as you set out in your writing career?
Not really. I had already written a fair amount of non-fiction and journalism, so writing novels wasn’t a huge leap. The ‘McIlvanney name’ is a bit of an abstract concept; it’s not something you think about when you’re sitting at your desk.
4) Did your illustrious namesakes offer any advice, if so what did you find most helpful? And how much of Gerry Conway resides in Liam McIlvanney?
This may have been short-sighted, but I consciously avoided seeking advice from those quarters. My old man didn’t see the book till it was in print, though of course I have learned a lot from reading his own novels. My uncle is a London journalist, but my main sources of information on the journalist’s trade were two Scottish hacks I’ve known since we were teenagers: Lindsay McGarvie (formerly of the Sunday Mail), and Stephen Khan of the Guardian.

As to how much of Gerry Conway resides in Liam McIlvanney, I’m not sure. The French critic Albert Thibaudet once wrote that ‘the true novelist creates his characters from the infinite directions of his possible life; the false novelist, from the single line of his actual life’. I think that’s about right. Gerry Conway is not me, but he’s someone I might have resembled if my life had taken a different turn.
5) This is the first outing for Gerry Conway, Journalist - what have you next planned for Gerry?
I recently moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, and – conveniently – so did Gerry Conway. The next book will be set in Dunedin.
6) Why Northern Ireland? Why now?
I wanted to explore the close – the sometimes unhealthily close – relationship between the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The ‘Troubles’ may be over, but the violence of the past still impinges on the present.
7) The book comes with the "thriller" tag and has a "literary" feel with a strong commentary on modern political history. How do you feel about the boxes that the marketing people try to push authors into?
It doesn’t bother me one way or the other. If people want to read it as a ‘thriller’ or as a ‘literary’ novel, that’s fine. Just so long as they read it!
8) Do you see any trends in Crime and Thriller novels for 2009 and beyond?
Not that I’ve noticed.
9) Who would be your dream cast of movie actors for an adaptation of your story?
James McAvoy, David Morrissey and Ray Winstone.
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
The Postman Always Rings Twice, from James M. Cain’s novel of the same name.
12) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I’m very much a crime fiction fan. I like different writers for different reasons: I like James M. Cain for plot and Graham Greene for atmosphere. And nobody does dialogue better than George V. Higgins.
13) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.