Monday, February 17, 2014

Review of The Papers of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney (Canongate, 1983/2013)

On this death bed in a local hospital, alcoholic vagrant, Eck Adamson, summons DI Jack Laidlaw for his final swansong -- an incoherent mumble and an envelope on which is written the names of two people, a pub, and a phone number.  One of the names is a local criminal who has recently been stabbed to death.  Adamson, it transpires was poisoned.  Laidlaw starts to investigate the vagrant’s death and is soon pointed in the direction of Tony Veitch, a young student who has recently inherited a small fortune, dropped out of university and disappeared.  Laidlaw is not the only person searching for Veitch, with two criminals gangs and a rival copper also on the hunt.  Laidlaw is, however, the only one in search of the truth.

I’ve only read two William McIlvanney books so far, but he’s quickly become one of my favourite authors.  Rather than telling linear tales in workmanlike prose that relies on melodrama or fast-paced action sequences to keep the reader’s attention, McIlvanney creates a layered, thoughtful story, rich in observational and philosophical asides told through evocative prose that has a nice cadence and vividly conveys the local dialect.  It is a world full of greys, rather than black and whites, with Laidlaw a man of contradictions -- obsessive to the point of alienating colleagues in doing the right thing in his work, but failing in his home life by cheating on his wife.  McIllvanney infuses the tale with an underlying pathos and world weariness, and conveys well the sense of place and communities of Glasgow in the early 1980s.  The result is a very well told story with three dimensional characters and an intricate plot.  I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the Laidlaw trilogy -- Strange Loyalties


12 comments:

jiescribano said...

McIlvanney creates a layered, thoughtful story, rich in observational and philosophical asides told through evocative prose that has a nice cadence and vividly conveys the local dialect.
That says it all.

Sandra Davies said...

I broke my own rule after reading this - went straight on and read the third. Didn't regret it.

Peter Rozovsky said...
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Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd be hard-pressed to think of a richer group of crime novels than McIlvanney's Laidlaw books. To whet your appetite for Strange Loyalties here's a bit of what I've written about the book.
==========================
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
Detectives Beyond Borders
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

TracyK said...

As I will be starting this series sometime soon, I am glad to hear how much you enjoyed it. Great review.

Rob Kitchin said...

Jose, yes, I think you're right!

Sandra, I've put in an order for Strange Loyalties.

Peter, thanks for the link. Yes, I think you're right that he blends compassion and humour, but for my money I think it's the cadence and observational and philosophical asides that sets him apart. He reminds me of James Sallis a bit.

Tracy, I think you'll like them.

Peter Rozovsky said...
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Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Rob, that post just happened to discuss compassion and humor. My first-ever McIlvanney post discussed his asides. And he is a wonderful observer of Glasgow life (perhaps because he is not from Glasgow.)

The picture attached to my post comes from Crimefest 2013 in Bristol, where McIlvanney was a guest of honor. Here's part of what he said about his adopted city:

"Glasgow has an opinion about everything. I don't think it's hard so much as confrontational."

Peter Rozovsky said...

The same James Sallis who attended Crimefest the year before McIlvanney did. You ought to show up yourself one year.

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Rob Kitchin said...

Peter, yes, I should get there one year. My problem is that I do so much travelling with work - away at least once a month - scheduling these events in without becoming homeless!