Friday, 19 November 2010

Forgotten Book - Laidlaw


My latest entry for Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a novel by a Scottish writer, William McIlvanney (whose brother, I learned recently, still writes about football for ‘The Sunday Times’). It’s called Laidlaw, and it dates from 1977. Ian Rankin admires it, and so do I. So too did Ross Macdonald, of all people, which must count for something. (I’ve never written about Macdonald in this blog, but he’s one of the American crime writers I really enjoy, even though admittedly I’ve only read a handful of his books.)

Right from the start, you know that McIlvanney really can write. The first paragraph begins’Running was a strange thing’, and at once we are with the viewpoint character, as his feet are ‘slapping the pavement’. Running, we are told, ‘was a dangerous thing. It was a billboard advertising panic; a neon sign spelling guilt.’ I think the style is arresting, and although it was a very modern-seeming book in its day, it hasn’t dated too badly. The obvious adjective is ‘gritty’, but however you describe it, it’s a powerful read.

The eponymous Laidlaw is an unconventional Glaswegian cop, who does not know which side he is really on. A girl’s body is found, and the question is whether Laidlaw’s methods will help him to the truth, or whether a more orthodox will prevail. Can you guess the answer?

This was McIlvanney’s crime debut, after three earlier novels. The dust jacket announces it as ‘the first of a series of police thrillers’, but as far as I know, McIlvanney only wrote one more crime novel, The Papers of Tony Veitch, which I also liked, but perhaps not as much as Laidlaw. Maybe he didn’t have the energy or the interest to sustain a crime-writing career over a period of time – something which requires stickability as well as talent. But this book is a good one.

13 comments:

Alistair Macfarlane said...

Brilliant book. One of the first crime books I read as a teenager.

Tim said...

There was Strange Loyalties too, which I read but don't remember anything about. I don't think I read Tony Veitch at all.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He was something special.

Maxine said...

I very much liked this book when it was first published, too. Like you, I did not enjoy the subsequent novel(s) so much.
The author's son Liam, who lives in New Zealand, has recently written a crime novel, "All the Colours of the Town", about a journalist in Glasgow, with an Irish-political plot.

Peter Rozovsky said...

McIlvaney wrote a third Laidlaw novel, Strange Loyalties, that I think is more or less crime as well.

One other achievement of Laidlaw: McIlvanney can plunge headfirst into Glaswegian dialect without ever seeming ridiculous. He knows when to do it, and he uses it to great effect.

George said...

I read LAIDLAW decades ago. It was very popular over here. And LAIDLAW shows up on a lot of BEST CRIME BOOK lists.

Alastair McIntyre said...

Like my namesake Alistair Macfarlane this was one of my early teenage reads - and inspired me to write three bad plagiarised Glasgow novellas of my own, none of which left the house fortunately. Laidlaw in my opinion very much gave birth to the current Tartan crime scene - Jim Taggart and John Rebus are clearly close relatives of Jack Laidlaw. There is, I believe, a third Laidlaw novel called Strange Loyalties, which unlike the first two I haven't read. I suspect it didn't get much of a release.

aguja said...

I am still reading and enjoying your posts ... and learning about books and authors that I had not heard of. Thought that I should let you know that I am still there, if not always commenting.

Ed Gorman said...

To me one of the finest crime novels ever written. Thanks for reviewing it.

Bill Carlin said...

I attended a talk given by William Mcilvanney in a public library almost twenty years ago. He made it clear that he had been offered quite a lot of money to carry on with a series of Laidlaw novels but had no real interest in doing so. A real shame since the two original novels were excellent. "Strange Loyalties", written after a considerable gap is written in the first person and seems more self-conscious in its approach to the crime genre.

Mack said...

Thanks for reviving this forgotten author. I was able to find a copy right off and should have it for the holidays.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Laidlaw is clearly a very popular book. And thanks for mentioning Strange Loyalites, which I must seek out. Maxine, thanks for the mention of Liam's book, also.

Janet O'Kane said...

I've tracked down my own copy of Laidlaw, as it sounded so intriguing. And I've realised I have Liam McIlvanney's 'All the Colours of the Town' on my to-be-read shelf, purchased at this year's Harrogate. It'll be interesting to read father and son back-to-back.