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Book Title: Laidlaw|
The author of the book: William McIlvanney
Edition: Canongate Books
The size of the: 18.31 MB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: May 2nd 2013
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
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Reader ratings: 3.9
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I thought the Swedes had the market cornered when it comes to gloomy, depresive, existentialist crime fiction, but William McIlvanney sets out to prove me wrong, going back right to the angsty and dreary seventies. My first impression on meeting Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw was that he is a clone of Martin Beck : slightly alcoholic, broken marriage, taciturn and manic depressive. Later I came to the decision that he has enough substance and nuance to stand on his own merits, despite the noted similarities. I put in the plus column his obvious intelligence, his unconventional methods of investigation, his flashes of black humour, his single-minded determination to solve the case he is working on, ultimately his own doubts and insecurities that make him so much more human and interesting. "These fragments I have shored against my ruin" he exclaims as he contemplates his career and his family life at the age of forty, a policeman who keeps locked in his desk the books of Kierkegaard, Camus and Unamuno, 'like caches of alcohol' to help him through his down periods. He is not popular among his colleagues in the Glasgow Crime Squad, but he is the man they go to when they have a tough case to break. And the one that falls in his lap now is one of the worst: a young girl is found murdered in a Glasgow park - no witnesses, no clues, no suspects, and the press is clamouring loudly for quick results.
While the regular team of policemen follow procedure and inspect the crime scene, interview relatives and picks up the usual suspects, Laidlaw goes 'to the mats', undercover among the criminal underworld of the city, picking up and following every rumour, paying, threatening , cajoling, begging, calling in past debts until he finds his man. McIlvanney deploys a much used and reliable method to get the reader acquainted with his main character: we get to know him indirectly, through the eyes of the rookie constable Brian Harkness, a young man who hasn't yet been embittered and cynical about the job, assigned as partner and liaison to Laidlaw on this case.
The most striking thing about him was something Harkness had noticed every time he had seen him - preoccupation. You never came on him empty. You imagined that if a launch arrived to rescue him from a desert island, he would have something he had to finish before being taken off. It was hard to think of him walking casually, always towards definite destinations.
From Laidlaw wife we get another indirect glimpse of his personality:
Knight errant of the Crime Squad, she reflected bitterly. The trouble was, it occurred to her, that with him you never knew whether you were the maiden or the dragon.
My favorite passage is the one that was probably the most likely for the author to get wrong (I remember there was an unwritten rule in every 70's crime movie that there must be an explicit sex scene somewhere), showing his hero with the guard down and in the arms of a woman not his wife. Here, it turns into a moment of tenderness and introspection and fun, a brief interlude before Laidlaw goes back down the mean and dirty streets of town in search of a killer.
From time to time, Laidlaw gets to make his views known directly, as he engages with Harkness in lively debates about the role of the policeman in society, about ethics and about personal responsibility.
Your opinion of me at the moment worries me exactly as much as dandruff would a chopped-off head. I don't have to justify myself to you. I've got to justify myself to me. And that's a bloody sight harder. [...] If everybody could waken up tomorrow morning and have the courage of their doubts, not their convictions, the millenium would be here. I think false certainties are what destroy us.
The technique of indirect presentation works very well, with the aided bonus of also easing the reader into the more unsavoury elements of Glasgow criminal gangs ('tearaways' in the local jargon). There are several more changes in the point of view, done in an unobtrusive and convincing way, mostly fleshing out secondary characters like the girl's abusive father, the mentally unbalanced killer, several bosses and underlings of what looks to me a criminal structure almost as well organized as the infamous Mob.
Which gets me to one aspect of the novel that justifies the renown it gained as the first 'tartan noir', namely local colour. Once I got used to the Glaswegian idiom, I was rewarded with a real feel for the place and the people, for a story that couldn't take place anywhere else in the world: the working man's town where pride and poverty walk hand in hand, where the polis are the enemy that you must never chat with, with the pubs where all the business transactions take place, with domestic violence and youthfull rebellion, even with the fickle weather - they all play a part in the tapestry of lies, deceit, misdirection, passion and greed that left a young girl brutally raped and murdered in a desolate park on a Sunday morning. There's more than one guilty party in this case, from disfunctional family to broken social contracts and deep seated prejudices.
Everything had changed. You could walk for as long as you liked in this city. It wouldn't know you. You could call every part of it by name. But it wouldn't answer.St. George's Cross was only cars, inventing destinations for the people in them. The cars controlled the people. Sauchiehall Street was a graveyard of illuminated tombstones. Buchanan Street was an escalator bearing strangers.
Sometimes, rarely, the sadness and the cynicism are relieved by the sort of self-deprecating humour the Scots are so fond of:
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.
In conclusion: good, if a little unoriginal, plot; great local colour; decent pacing and escalation of tension; even better characterization and social commentary; a blurring of the lines between good and bad; confident prose with a touch of the lyrical in the most unexpected places. I would say I am interested in the next Laidlaw novel.
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Read information about the authorWilliam McIlvanney was a Scottish writer of novels, short stories, and poetry. He was a champion of gritty yet poetic literature; his works Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch, and Walking Wounded are all known for their portrayal of Glasgow in the 1970s. He is regarded as "the father of 'Tartan Noir’" and has been described as "Scotland's Camus".
His first book, Remedy is None, was published in 1966 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1967. Docherty (1975), a moving portrait of a miner whose courage and endurance is tested during the depression, won the Whitbread Novel Award.
Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991) are crime novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Laidlaw is considered to be the first book of Tartan Noir.
William McIlvanney was also an acclaimed poet, the author of The Longships in Harbour: Poems (1970) and Surviving the Shipwreck (1991), which also contains pieces of journalism, including an essay about T. S. Eliot. McIlvanney wrote a screenplay based on his short story Dreaming (published in Walking Wounded in 1989) which was filmed by BBC Scotland in 1990 and won a BAFTA.
Since April 2013, McIlvanney's own website has featured personal, reflective and topical writing, as well as examples of his journalism.
Adapted from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William...
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