Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Papers of Tony Veitch - William McIlvanney


This is the second of McIlvanney's Laidlaw Trilogy, held by many to be the spring from which Tartan Noir flowed, though I credit the TV series Taggart equally.

McIlvanney is not a genre writer but an award-winning literary writer who found crime fiction as one way of expressing his preoccupations and interests.  Thus Veitch is not really a crime novel - it really doesn't matter who did what to whom.  It is a study of a once mighty city, brought to its knees by Mrs Thatcher, where the hard man has always been as well-regarded as the provost or the Rangers centre-forward.  Jack Laidlaw is as hard as any of villains he hunts down.  The plot drives the narrative but it is the language that makes it sing. Here are just a few of my favourites:

"A lot of the people he dealt with, Milligan thought, must have been home in bed before their self-congratulation went sour and they realised that Macey had been taking the mickey out of the mickey they thought they were taking out of him.  He was so simple he could have sold life insurance in heaven."

"Put a monkey in a toy uniform, Macey thought, and it will try to pull rank."

"She wis a kind wumman, mamither.  Woulda bought extra cheese if she'd knew there wis a moose in the hoose."

"It was a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground."

The original ... and in many ways the best.

Hard Truths is a short ebook of an interview with McIlvanney by the contemporary star of Tartan Noir, Tony Black.  It is actually a book of interviews with crime writers chopped up to flog separately on Kindle - a smart idea.  McIlvanney, still going strong at 77, has just got a new publisher, Canongate, who have republished all his work in smart new editions and as ebooks.

He says of Laidlaw, "A detective story, if you get it right you'll have a plot that's going to make people read on but along the way give them serious observation and a sense of the society the novel is passing through."  And of Tartan Noir, "I don't that it'll be the ultimate expression of Scottish culture, folk will come along and do more but I think it's great that there's an area where the value, the significance of the written word is appreciated."

The good news is that, more than twenty years since he finished the Laidlaw Trilogy, McIlvanney is toying with the notion of a prequel, "before he became quite so aggressive", and a "twilight" post-retirement Laidlaw.  We can but hope.

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