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All the Colours of the Town
on 29 July 2009
All the Colours of the Town is McIlvanney's first novel, and it is an excellent debut. The story follows Gerry Conway, a Glaswegian journalist, as he tries to follow a lead that was dropped in his mailbox one day. Following a hunch, he travels around Glasgow and eventually to Belfast in order to get the story that will propel his career forward.
The book starts well with an intriguing prologue, and is well-paced from the beginning. We are told the man Conway is trying to bring to justice, but the incriminating details are released slowly as Gerry stutters over links, questioning his own morality and even his safety. I found his character to be very convincing; McIlvanney contrasts his 'no holds barred' attitude when it comes to getting his story with the relationship with his family, his recently divorced wife and more poignantly his boys.
McIlvanney's writing is excellent throughout. It stumbles a little through the early chapters, but once he finds his voice the prose is easy to read and very focused. Setting is well-defined too; there is a definite Scottish feel to it, with Scots slang creeping into Conway's speech at times. Glasgow and Belfast are both well-described too, with the author bringing a clear image into the reader's mind of these cities.
The book has a historical context too, with the Troubles being a major theme. This is well researched, although a little bit of knowledge may be required on the part of the reader here as McIlvanney does not always give enough detail to understand the story completely; the importance of certain acronyms or dates is sometimes not clear until much later in the book.
One criticism I do have is that I felt the story built up tension very well, but then everything seemed to come to a head very quickly. Gerry is still searching for evidence then all of a sudden the story is done with and the novel has finished. I felt that another few chapters would have meant that the story was resolved in a more believable way, rather than having the situation seemingly change overnight. Despite this, the book is still an excellent debut, gritty and intelligent, and a welcome addition to the crime genre.