William Angus McIlvanney was a Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet who’s often referred to as “The Father of Tartan Noir” for his Laidlaw crime fiction series. Tartan Noir is a type of crime fiction known for its gritty and violent themes amidst the backdrop of Scotland’s social and political issues, including poverty and corruption.
McIlvanney’s ability to craft realistic, imperfect, three-dimensional characters and place them within the authentically detailed setting of 1970s Scotland’s city of Glasgow made readers and other crime writers alike fall in love with McIlvanney’s storytelling.
The Laidlaw series, in which audiences follow Detective Jack Laidlaw’s cases that focus on the intricacies of various characters’ psyches rather than concentrating solely on the importance of figuring out “whodunit,” became a blueprint for other Scottish crime writers like Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and Ian Rankin. With the help of his anti-hero detective, McIlvanney could explore humanity at its best and worst in cheap hotels and dingy bars while proposing that no one is simply good or evil, but a combination of both, influenced by their experiences and circumstances.
Although McIlvanney has since passed, his Laidlaw series continues to encourage readers to be inquisitive about the world around them and to think deeply about the ways our backgrounds play a part in who we are.
If you want to read more about this groundbreaking series, the list below is a useful guide.
The first book in the series introduces readers to Jack Laidlaw, an alcoholic, philosophical detective whose tough appearance disguises a deeply intelligent and self-reflective man. Laidlaw is thrust into the seedy underbelly of Glasgow as he faces gangs and wealthy thugs who control the city after he investigates the murder of a young woman.
The skilled detective must quickly rush to catch the perpetrator before the victim’s father can exact his idea of justice—a promise of swift, bloody violence. Told from various perspectives, readers will appreciate the slow unfurling of details as they get to know this complex detective as well as the Scottish city of Glasgow—which McIlvanney writes with striking authenticity.
The Papers of Tony Veitch
The second book in the Jack Laidlaw series places readers back within the crime-ridden city of Glasgow—a setting that contains equal amounts of compassion and violence and where individuals are always good and bad rather than merely one or the other.
Detective Jack Laidlaw is summoned to the deathbed of Eck Adamson, whom many view merely as a hard-drinking bum but whom Laidlaw deems someone worth speaking with and listening to. Their last conversation provides Laidlaw with a clue that might get him closer to finding out more about the murder of a gangland thug and the disappearance of a student. The determined detective must uncover the intricate layers of corruption that appear to have infected every level of the city’s infrastructure.
The Wall Street Journal describes this captivating final installment as an exploration of “the ruin of the body, the corruption of the soul and the shattering of society.” The novel begins with Jack Laidlaw grieving over the recent loss of his younger brother’s death in an apparent car accident; however, Laidlaw is doubtful that his brother’s death was only an unfortunate coincidence and decides to take on the responsibility of investigating parts of his own painful past to gain a clearer understanding of the events that unfolded. Had his brother possibly wanted to die?
Laidlaw’s investigation will lead him to gain a deeper understanding of suffering, injustice and love amid the imminent end of his marriage and possible rekindling with another romantic partner. Dark and emotionally raw, Strange Loyalties perfectly ties up loose ends while providing impeccable characterization and a satisfying conclusion.
The Dark Remains
This is a prequel collaboration between William McIlvanney and New York Times-bestselling Scottish crime author Ian Rankin, who finished the half-written manuscript that had been left behind after McIlvanney’s death in 2015. The result is a masterful novel that encompasses two iconic crime writers’ merged styles to bring readers an enthralling story of Laidlaw’s first case.
Laidlaw is assigned a murder case centered around lawyer Bobby Carter, who was killed in an alley behind a pub that happens to be under the protection of a local crime boss. While alive, Carter was known to do a lot of work for shady individuals. Did dirty dealings finally, perhaps catch up to him?
All Laidlaw knows for certain is that two of Glasgow’s most vicious gangs are now at war, and the entire city is in danger. Readers will enjoy the journey the two authors take them on as much as the story’s ending, which won’t disappoint long-time lovers of the series.