LAIDLAW by WILLIAM McILVANNEY (1977, Hodder & Stroughton / Cannongate Books Ltd., Paperback, 280pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Meet Jack Laidlaw, the original damaged detective. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on Glasgow Green, only Laidlaw stands a chance of finding her murderer from among the hard men, gangland villains and self-made moneymen who lurk in the city’s shadows.
William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy has found its way back into print courtesy of Cannongate. This is the first and introduces us to DI Jack Laidlaw, who is a maverick detective with more depth and heart than most. He is by no means perfect and has a troubled marriage, prolonged due to the deep love he has for his children. He is also involved in an affair with a hotel receptionist. He also has to blood in a new partner in DC Brian Harkness, whilst being involved in a feus with his colleague DI Milligan.
McIlvanney’s tale is simple, efficient, pacy and populated with characters of depth. He liberally uses Glaswegian slang in the dialogue, which adds a sense of place – although for non-Glaswegians, it can take some translating. The dialogue is also laced with a sardonic humour that nods to the noir classics of the past. As the various factions race-against-time to find the troubled murderer, Laidlaw finds time to lay down his heavy philosophies on Harkness and through this he earns a grudging respect.
This taut, well-written crime novel was highly influential on other Scottish crime and mystery writers such as Ian Rankin, Gordon Ferris and Craig Russell, whose works echo McIlvanney’s vision of the Scottish underworld. Highly recommended.