Strange Loyalties: William McIlvanney in words and a picture
|Your humble blog keeper (right) explains things|
to William McIlvanney at Crimefest 2013, Bristol.
Photo courtesy of Ali Karim
This time the novel is Strange Loyalties (1991), third of McIlvanney's three Laidlaw novels and, like its predecessors, Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch, rereleased in trade paperback by Canongate.
"I woke up with a head like a rodeo. Isn't it painful having fun? Mind you, last night hadn't been about enjoyment, just whisky as anaesthetic. Now it was wearing off, the pain was worse. It always is."First, McIlvanney comes with a funny, inventive, eye-catching way of saying, "I was drunk, and my head hurt." That's a good way to grab a reader's attention, a good thing to do in a novel's first sentence. Second, the humor is a welcome change from the pain and self-pity with which many another crime writer endows such first-person hangovers.
Third, McIllvanney immediately leavens the fun with somber self-realization that to me, at least, tugs at the heartstrings without getting maudlin. If you've never read the Laidlaw novels, read that opening again. Don't you want to know the character who thinks those lines? Doesn't that mix make Laidlaw seem more real, more human?
So, who is like unto William McIlvanney? Allan Guthrie probably comes closest in his mix of humor and compassion, but even that top-flight crime writer doesn't do it with the concentration of his fellow Scotsman McIlvanney. Ken Bruen does something like it in Priest, though its characters lean more toward martyrdom and away from humor.
Ian Rankin calls it doubtful that he'd be a crime writer without McIlvanney's influence but, other than that McIlvanney's Laidlaw and Rankin's Rebus both work the streets of a tough Scottish city, I don't see striking similarities between the two. So I'll dump the question in your laps, dear readers: Which crime writers best combine humor and compassion? Which authors, if you want to put the question this way, will make you laugh and cry in the same book?
© Peter Rozovsky 2013