William McIlvanney - Laidlaw
"...these novels are as relevant today as they ever were. The quality of writing is breathtaking, and the sheer craft in the story-telling is magnificent."
Bud Lawson's daughter Jennifer is found sexually assaulted and murdered in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw investigates. He knows the city's criminal heartland well, and knows what makes it tick – the seemingly respectable crime bosses, the villains, the crooks, the hard men, the wanabees and the hangers-on. But he finds that this investigation is drawing him even further into its sordid underbelly, and what he finds is not to his liking.
First published in 1977, this book started the genre that became Tartan Noir. It was the first of three Laidlaw investigations, and they inspired such writers as Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Val McDermid. But the books' influences on crime fiction were not confined to Scotland – the world sat up and took notice.
I've read them all before, of course, but a re-issue was long overdue, and now Canongate has done just that. So how do they stand up to a re-reading after all this time? Judging by this one, they are as relevant today as they ever were. The quality of writing is breathtaking, and the sheer craft in the story-telling is magnificent.
William McIlvanney, like Laidlaw, knows Glasgow, though he is a native of Kilmarnock, a town 20 miles to the south of the city. Maybe that's why he knows it – he has come to the city fresh, and has no preconceptions. The murderer is almost irrelevant in 'Laidlaw', and we know who he is from the start. There is no mystery to be solved as such. It's Laidlaw's unorthodox ways – his disregard for authority, his compassion and his thought processes - that make the story unpredictable and compelling. Plus the fact that he has to get to the murderer before other people do – other people who want to wreak their own vengeance.
The flawed policeman is a cliché nowadays. Jack is the original flawed policeman, though he is no cliché. He has a broken marriage behind him; he has personal problems; and his unorthodox methods cause hackles to rise among his superior officers.
The book is a superb combination of a rattling good story and a literary style that refuses to compromise. I'll be reviewing the other two Laidlaw books at a later date, and I can't wait to read them again.
Reviewed by: J.G.