McIlvanney: more than just a “crime” writer…

December 6, 2015 at 10:32 am (cops, crime, culture, literature, poetry, posted by JD, scotland)

William McIlvanney 25 Nov 1936 – 5 Dec 2015: writer, thinker, poet of ‘Tartan noir.’

Laidlaw (1977); opening of Chapter 2:

Laidlaw sat at his desk, feeling a bleakness that wasn’t unfamiliar to him. Intermittently, he found himself doing penance for being him. When the mood seeped into him, nothing mattered. He could think of no imaginable success, no way of life, no dream of wishes fulfilled that would satisfy.

Last night and this morning hadn’t helped. He had finally left Bob Lilley and the rest still on the surveillance in Dumfries. On the strength of solid information, they had followed the car from Glasgow. By a very devious route it has taken them to Dumfries. AS far as he knew, that was where it was still parked — in the waste lot beside the pub. Nothing has happened. Instead of catching them in the act of breaking in, three hours of picking your nose. He has left them to it and come back to the office, gloom sweet gloom.

It was strange how this recurring feeling had always been a part of him. Even when he was a child, it had been present in its own childish form. He remembered nights when the terror of darkness had driven him through to his parents’ room. He must have run for miles on that bed. It wouldn’t have surprised him if his mother had had to get the sheets re-soled. Then it had been bats and bears, wolves running round the wallpaper. The spiders were the worst, big, hairy swines, with more legs than a chorus-line.

Now the monsters were simultaneously less exotic and less avoidable. He was drinking too much — not for pleasure, just sipping it systematically, like low proof hemlock. His marriage was a maze nobody had ever mapped, an infinity of habit and hurt and betrayal down which he and Edna had wanered separately, meeting occasionally in the children. He was a policeman, a Detective Inspector, and more and more he wondered how that had happened. And he was nearly forty.

* Guardian appreciation here


  1. Ted edwards said,

    Very sad to read of Willies passing and only then learn of his work. Looks like I will be busy catching up on his work. Clearly Ian Rankin must have be inspired by his work who I thought was Scotland’s leading crime writer. Just a shame Willie never sought higher recognition. R.I.P Willie.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “It’s doubtful I would be a crime writer without McIlvanney” – Ian Rankin.

  2. Rilke said,

    As James Kelman rightly says, since Conan Doyle and J.M. Barrie the curious Scottish fascination with detectives, wizards and faeries is a constant source of literary emarrassbanet.

    • kb72 said,

      I really would like hear your views on Scottish literature. I’m ashamed to say I’ve read no McIlvanney & I don’t care for Kelman. I can see the point of Muriel Spark & of A L Kennedy. I read Galloway’s Clara which I thought very good (and not at all “Scottish” in flavour). I dislike Burnside’s novel The Dumb House, which was as cold as Loch Ness in December.

      Also saw the film version of Sunset Song, looked lovely interior and exterior, good on atmosphere, acting fine but a bit of a plod. It’s the poetic narrative voice which makes the novel move along.

      Oh, & just read Ben McPherson’s A Line of Blood, which is reasonably compelling (tho’ hardly literature) – a kind of cross between Nick Hornby & Gone, Girl. McPherson is Scottish but lives in Norway.

  3. kb72 said,

    Is it any worse than the English? Detectives – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Rendell and a whole raft of others; wizards – Tolkein, Rowling (English by birth); Faeries – hmm – Lewis? Tolkein?

  4. Political Tourist said,

    Fair play to Willie, he asked a few political questions, as in why the poorest section of the Scottish public voted YES.
    Maybe a few self proclaimed socialists should take note.

  5. Rilke said,

    Same reason they turn up to Old Firm games to knock the shite out of each other. Poverty is no guarantee of political insight. Why should it be?

  6. Political Tourist said,

    Brit Nationalism is never far away.

  7. Glasgow Working Class said,

    The true fact is is that all sorts of people nowadays turn up at football matches. Businessmen and working class. Some subsidise their season tickets from benefit payments. I recall in the old days there was a free special entry! door at Parkheid for priests. Looking after the youngsters souls.😂

  8. Rilke said,

    Of course, there is no sectarian idiocy and racist bigotry problem in Scottish football. All that drunken casual thuggery and moronic chanting I witnessed when I lived on Easter Road was just a dream. Stop lying to yourselves.

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