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on 30 April 2016
I first read this about twenty years ago, and was blown away by it. McIlvanney created the Tartan Noir genre with his hard-bitten philosophising maverick detective Laidlaw, and at the time there was nothing like him. Sadly, for me, this book hasn't stood the test of time. There's been too many new incarnations of Jack Laidlaw, and some of them have been better (though a lot haven't!).

What works really works. It is beautifully written. It has some brilliantly witty one-liners and more than anything, it encapsulates Glasgow just at a key point in time, before it became 'Miles Better', while it was still a city people feared, a city with a very, very dark side, before the old slums had been demolished and while the new slums were still in their infancy. It has the too-bright contrast of a city striving to be part of the new world in places like the Muscular Arms, but failing to triumph over the gangland world that bled into the city centre, when city centre clubs were a smokescreen for laundering money. In this sense, McIlvanney's Laidlaw is brilliant - and nearing 5 stars.

But as a book, it was for me, like the Glasgow it portrayed, dated. The one-liners were just a bit too prolific. It crossed the boundary too many time from beautiful prose to over-written prose. And more importantly, I lost my belief in Laidlaw as a character. No-one talks like Aristotle - not Jack Laidlaw, and certainly not his sidekick or his lover, surely. His endless need to philosophise the tiniest remark started to irritate me, and I felt that there were long stretched of his dialogue and internal monologue that were there for no other reason than to distinguish this book from other crime stories. Fair enough at the time, because this was undoubtedly ground-breaking. But no need now that the genre has developed. Which is what I mean by dated.

Don't get me wrong, I think everyone who loves the genre should read this because it created it, because it is a really ground breaking book, and McIlveanney deserves a great deal more acclaim than he ever got. But if you have read it, I'd suggest you leave it at that. On saying that mind, I suspect I will still read The Papers of Tony Veitch, the follow up, at some point soon, just to prove myself right, in the hope of proving myself wrong.
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Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw is investigating the rape and murder of pretty young Jennifer Lawson who was recently reported missing by her father. Detective Constable Harkness is there to assist him, newly transferred he has been warned about Laidlaw’s unorthodox methods. But the police aren’t the only ones investigating this crime – Jennifer’s father is determined to find the killer first.

Set in 1970s Glasgow hardly a page is turned that doesn’t have a snarl or a raised fists which alongside the nervousness of the women all reinforce the menace that stalks through this book. Times are hard in Glasgow with the national industries closing down and so these hard men need to make their mark on the world in the way they know best, through violence.

Unsurprisingly since this book was originally published in the 1977 the sense of time is shockingly well done including the bigotry that ran rife in Glasgow at that time. I’m not sure that poor Jennifer would have put up with the way her father ruled her and her mother quite as meekly in this day and age. His uncompromising manner had meant that there were hints of a secret boyfriend after she chose someone unsuitable in his eyes a while earlier, but was her murder committed by someone she knew, or was it perhaps a chance killing. That’s what the maverick that is Laidlaw intends to find out. But, he is considered unusual for a policeman in those macho times, because he cared about the causes of crime as a fellow officer commented:

“You’ll have to wear wellies when you work with him. To wade through the tears. He thinks criminals are underprivileged.”

Whilst the mystery itself is fairly run of the mill when you discount that this is the first of the genre now known as ‘Tartan Noir’ the beauty of this book is in its language. It is a joy to turn the page and find something pretty much quotable on practicably every page.

Sunday in the park – it was a nice day. A Glasgow sun was out, dully luminous, an eye with cataract. Some people were in the park pretending it was warm, exercising that necessary Scottish thrift with weather which hoards every good day in the hope of some year amassing a summer.

Partly because of the lyrical language this reads quite unlike most crime fiction; it isn’t a book to be devoured to find out whodunit because we know who the perpetrator is fairly on, the question is who will get to them first, the police or local justice? This is book to savour to think about the views of all involved even those who are apparently viciously elbowed out like Jennifer’s mother by the men determined to find their man and make him pay.

The one element which worried me ahead of reading this novel was the inclusion of the dialect; I’m not a big fan of dialect in a book but I honestly didn’t struggle with the inclusion in this one either in terms of meaning or with the inevitable slow-down it usually causes adapting to unfamiliar letter patterns which tend to pull me outside of the story. This was one book where those short and infrequent bursts of dialect did add rather than detract from the story particularly when I worked out Laidlaw’s use of it himself gave a pointer to the type of person he was conversing with!

An all-round enjoyable read which I’m delighted to have finally read!
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on 19 March 2016
If a crime novel could be described as a thing of beauty, perhaps William McIvanney would take the crown with his seminal Laidlaw trilogy. The first Laidlaw novel was originally published in 1977 and still serves as the forerunner to every piece of crime fiction with a social conscience. Jack Laidlaw is a man of contrasts, every bit as ravaged by his inner demons as any existentialist philosopher. This novel still stands as a watershed in crime fiction and saw critics coin the term 'Tartan Noir' and with it define a genre. McIlvanney is better known for his poetry and his skill is apparent on many occasions as he introduces readers to the original maverick:

"Laidlaw sat at his desk, feeling a bleakness that wasn't unfamiliar to him. Intermittently, he found himself doing penance for being him. When the mood seeped into him, nothing mattered. He could think of no imaginable success, no way of life, no dream of wishes fulfilled that would satisfy."

The case at hand is rather more straightforward than Jack Laidlaw himself, as the recently reported missing daughter of local thug Bud Lawson is found brutally murdered. Laidlaw loses himself in the city as he investigates and this novel is more about the man himself and the Glasgow of the time than the crime per se. This is not so much a police procedural of the 1970s, more an exploration of prevailing society at the time. New man on the force DC Brian Harkness is assigned to work alongside Laidlaw meaning readers are ideally placed to witness Laidlaw explaining his unique methods to a rookie.

McIlvanney is keen to point out the difference between Laidlaw and the more conventional detectives who inhabit the force and Laidlaw mocks colleague DI Milligan with his distinct sense of right and wrong and disdain for the people who cross the line. For Laidlaw things are never that clear cut and his compassion is what sets him apart. DI Milligan is equally scathing of Laidlaw and warns Harkness about the perils of working alongside him:

"You'll have to wear wellies when you work with him. To wade through the tears. He thinks criminals are underprivileged."

McIlvanney brings the city of Glasgow alive and the harsh 1970s era shines through. Against a backdrop of a Glasgow with tenements and a society which dealt many a harsh hand, this is a vibrant tour of the hard men for whom violence is instinctive. Laidlaw contains some of the most exquisite prose that I can remember reading and as soon as I turned the last page I wanted to read this again. Admittedly the criminal investigation at the centre of the novel is relatively straightforward, but the focal point is seeing Laidlaw travel the city of Glasgow and bring an element of human understanding to the job he faces.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel).
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on 26 January 2018
I'd never heard of William McIlvanney until I read an interview with Mark Billingham who said he was the author who made him want to write crime fiction and being a big fan of Mark Billingham's that was enough for me. I was so pleased I gave him a try. For a non Glaswegian it seemed authentic to me. Very good characterisation and plot. I'm sorry there are only the three.
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on 26 March 2013
I'm not sure how this happened, but somehow I not only missed this book when it was first published, but also missed the other two books in the Laidlaw trilogy. Thank goodness, I've now filled that gap. At least, I have read Laidlaw and the other two are on order. Perhaps most important in these days of the instant fix followed by immediately forgetfulness, McIlvanney's writing is good that nowhere is there any hint that this was first published in 1977. Although few writers of that period have withstood the changes that have taken place in literary styling, McIlvanney is so accomplished that Laidlaw could have been written this year. Except that not many writers today are capable of producing work of this quality. Laidlaw is not only an outstanding crime novel, it is also an exceptional exploration of people struggling to keep their philosophical heads above the rising muddy tide of contemporary life. Unforgettable characters, crisp settings, sharp dialogue; not a wasted word.
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on 4 December 2016
Portrays a kind of sectarian, macho, pub-land Glasgow. If it ever existed it must have had at least one strong woman, or kind gentleman, or even a row of brave bigonias, surely. Not in this book though. What redeems it is Jack Laidlaw himself: a kind of walking sermon against bigotry - made palatable by being opaque, surly, cryptic & unhappy. You get dragged further than you want into Laidlaw's philosophy and motivations, just so you can admire them; & you have to put up with a little bit of unreasonable-boss-syndrome : both are common faults in this genre, & not as bad here as in other books. The best feature though is the denouement, in which rather than acting judge and executioner, like Jack Reacher would have done; Laidlaw understands both perp and victim, and victim's relatives, and conducts a seemly arrest. Bravo
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on 11 March 2018
Good read, maybe a bit dated now. If you live in or around Glasgow I’m sure it’s nice to picture the setting.
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on 9 October 2013
As a born and bred Glaswegian, left twenty five years ago, I grew up with William Mcilvanney's daily observations in the Glasgow Herald and it's sister paper The Evening Times.
his descriptions are so expressive that you are drawn into the tale, it is you that is standing at that street corner observing. beware, that little tyke coming up behind you could be carrying a heavy spanner with your name on it ..........!
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on 19 February 2017
I am in love with McInvanney. His turn of phrase is so accurately weegie, I found myself smiling throughout. Great read.
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on 26 June 2013
I had heard so much about Laidlaw, and love detective drama on TV but don't as a rule read this kind of fiction. I really enjoyed this book and would read into the early light of day! i am probably preaching to the converted but if not, try this book and like me you will want to read more William McIlvannley!
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