Today I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on The Dark Remains, the Laidlaw prequel which was started by William McIlvanney and completed by Ian Rankin from a handwritten half draft. My thanks to publisher Canongate Books for sending me an advance reader copy to savour (devour). Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
If the truth’s in the shadows, get out of the light . . .
Lawyer Bobby Carter did a lot of work for the wrong type of people. Now he’s dead and it was no accident. Besides a distraught family and a heap of powerful friends, Carter’s left behind his share of enemies. So, who dealt the fatal blow?
DC Jack Laidlaw’s reputation precedes him. He’s not a team player, but he’s got a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets. His boss chalks the violence up to the usual rivalries, but is it that simple? As two Glasgow gangs go to war, Laidlaw needs to find out who got Carter before the whole city explodes.
William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books changed the face of crime fiction. When he died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of Laidlaw’s first case. Now, Ian Rankin is back to finish what McIlvanney started. In The Dark Remains, these two iconic authors bring to life the criminal world of 1970s Glasgow, and Laidlaw’s relentless quest for truth.
It’s hardly unusual for me to state that the second, third or fourth book in a series is actually my first. Often the first time I’ve ever read that particular author too. We all know I have form for it. That is also, sort of, true of this masterpiece of tartan noirishness, The Dark Remains, which is both the fourth and final book in the series, the first I have read, but also, fortuitously, a prequel, so perhaps a very good place to start. And this time I can say I have at least read one of the authors because I’ve read many Rebus books, so it’s a tick in the Ian Rankin box at least. But I am ashamed to say that, in spite of loving Scottish crime fiction, until now I had never read any books by William McIlvanney. I know. I should hang my head in shame – I’m not even sure how I can dare show my face at Bloody Scotland. I’ve failed. I’m hopeless … But I’m making up for it.
I loved this book. Started at six finished by eleven, I devoured it, completely drawn into the world of Detective Jack Laidlaw as he navigates the Glasgow streets, trying, perhaps against the odds, to prevent a gang war from erupting in the name of retribution. Kept on the periphery of the murder investigation due to a less than harmonious working relationship with his new DI, Laidlaw knows there is more to the murder of mob boss Cam Colvin’s right hand man than meets the eye, but with three rival gangs all capable of committing the dirty deed, and with Colvin hell bent on saving face and getting vengeance, the stakes are high and the stage is set for a fast paced, tension laden, character driven and thoroughly entertaining read.
I can’t speak from a point of authority never having read the three original Laidlaw novels, but what I can say is that this book hooked me from the off. Not just the mystery of who murdered Bobby Carter, but very much the characters who started to appear on the page. From gangland bosses, Cam Colvin and John Rhodes to the diverse police team, notably DI MIlligan (idiot) and Laidlaw’s new, somewhat reluctant partner, DS Bob Lilley, each one is portrayed so brilliantly, the voices unique and the personality so vivid that they come to life on the page. But it is Laidlaw who really makes a mark, as you’d probably expect.
He’s a maverick, as far from a team player as you can imagine, and certainly not flavour of the month as far as Milligan is concerned. In fact it’s fair to say that there is perhaps less mutual respect between the pair than amongst Glasgow’s rival gangs. Laidlaw likes to fly solo, enjoys poetry, struggles with family life and strives to understand the people of Glasgow and the reasons behind the crime, something he finds as important as simply working out whodunnit. It all plays out perfectly in the narrative, Laidlaw’s intuitive nature and inability to stick to Milligan’s script making for some magical moments in the story. He knows how to play the game, how to work with and not just against the people on the wrong side of the law, as long as it gets the results he needs. He doesn’t necessarily overlook the wrongdoings, yet he is not so driven by the black and white of the law that his human side doesn’t occasionally show through. But he is the definitive lone ranger when it comes to the Glasgow Crime Squad, Lilley his Tonto, and together, despite their differences, they make for an irresistible pairing.
Bearing in mind this book is set a few years before I was born, and book one in the original trilogy was released a few years after that time, you definitely feel the evocation of the era. I felt transported back to 1970’s Glasgow, to the time when smoking at your desk was still a thing, and there was no triangulation of mobile phone signals to pinpoint, or break, the alibi of your suspects. It’s good old fashioned police work at play and it leads to some conflict as one party tends to take the easy road and ignore the facts right in front of their face. With a raft of suspects and any number of possible motives for murder, the focus pushes back and forth amongst the key players whilst the guilty party remains hidden in plain sight. It’s a craftily plotted tale but one which left me smiling, even if it was somewhat ruefully by the end.
It is easy to see why Laidlaw, and the work of William McIlvanney, is quoted as clearing the way for the new wave (then) of Scottish crime fiction. There are so many elements of this book that I recognise in the books that I have read, echoes of a genre which is unapologetically gritty, urban and down to earth. Where the hero is no longer the well to do, highly educated genius, but a more relatable, if somewhat detached and aloof character. Laidlaw is a family man, a father, but most of all a copper. One whose wit, intelligence and unique style it was a joy to spend an evening with. There are certainly shades of Laidlaw in Rebus, and in that respect I’m not sure they could have found a better fitting author to complete this book.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I loved this. Love the pacing, loved the characters, loved the story. Loved it so much, I bought the first three books the very next day. Can’t wait to tuck in. But in the meantime, I’ll just leave this here – a posthumous nod to Mr McIlvanney, and a big thank you to Ian Rankin for helping to bring Laidlaw into my reading life.
About the Authors
William McIlvanney is widely credited as the founder of the Tartan Noir movement that includes authors such as Denise Mina, Ian Banks, and Val McDermid, all of whom cite him as an influence and inspiration. McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy “changed the face of Scottish fiction” (The Times of London), his Docherty won the Whitbread Award for Fiction, and his Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch both gained Silver Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association. Strange Loyalties won the Glasgow Herald’s People’s Prize. William passed away in December 2015.
Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first novel The Flood was published in 1986, while his first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, was published in 1987. The Rebus series is now translated into twenty-two languages and the books are bestsellers on several continents. Ian has received an OBE for services to literature. He is also the winner of an Edgar Award and the recipient of a Gold Dagger for fiction and the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons.