William McIlvanney is dead
|William McIlvanney and me at Crimefest Bristol |
in 2013. Photo courtesy of Ali Karim.
McIlvanney's three novels about Glasgow Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw — Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983), and Strange Loyalties (1991) — are the answer to anyone who needs proof that literary fiction can be tough, gritty, and unpretentious, or that crime writing can be beautiful, affecting, and a portrait of its time and place that deserves to last.
McIlvanney's sympathy with his low and not so lowlife characters was heart-rending and funny at the same time, and he made Glasgow his own in a way no other crime writer has done with a city, not Chandler with Los Angeles or Lawrence Block with New York or Jean-Claude Izzo with Marseille.
And oh, how he could make the oldest of hard-boiled crime fiction clichés seem new. The protagonist waking up drunk. The murder scene narrated from the killer's point of view. The police officer who sits around feeling bleak. The angry, nervous, fretting parent of a missing child. McIlvanney could make all seem like something you'd never read before.
He was a fluent and commanding speaker on stage at conventions, and a modest and jovial presence at the hotel bar, and I know of no other author regarded with such respect and affection by his fellow writers. Here's the Telegraph's obituary and appreciation. Here's a link to all Detectives Beyond Borders posts about McIlvanney. And here are a few of my favorite bits from the Laidlaw books:
"(H)e recognized the inimitable decor of Milligan's poky flat, a kind of waiting room baroque.
"The walls were dun and featureless, the furniture was arranged with all the homeyness of a second-hand sale room and clothes were littered everywhere. It wasn't a room so much as a suitcase with doors."
-- The Papers of Tony Veitch
*"It was Glasgow on a Friday night, the city of stares. ... There were a few knots of people looking up at the series of windows where train departures were posted. They looked as if they were trying to threaten their own destinations into appearing."
-- The Papers of Tony Veitch
*" ... his anger was displaced. It was in transit, like a lorry-load of iron, and he was looking for someone to dump it on. His jacket had been thrown on over an open-necked shirt. A Rangers football-scarf was spilling out from the lapels.
"Looking at him, Laidlaw saw one of life's vigilantes, a retribution-monger. For everything that happened there was somebody else to blame, and he was the very man to deal with them. Laidlaw was sure his anger didn't stop at people. He could imagine him shredding ties that wouldn't knot properly, stamping burst tubes of toothpaste into the floor. His face looked like an argument you couldn't win."
*"I've seen it go about its business all too often — all those trials in which you can watch the bemusement of the accused grow while the legal charade goes on around him. You can watch his eyes cloud, panic and finally silt up with surrender. He doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. He can no longer recognize what he's supposed to have done. Only they know what they're talking about. It's their game. He's just the ball."
-- Strange Loyalties
"`Ma lassie's missin.'
"`We don't know that, Mr. Lawson. ... She could've missed a bus. She wouldn't be able to inform you. She could be staying with a friend.'
"`Whit freen'? Ah'd like tae see her try it?'
"`She is an adult person, Mr. Lawson.'
"`Is she hell! She's eighteen. Ah'll tell her when she's an adult. That's the trouble nooadays. Auld men before their faythers. Ah stand for nothin' like that in ma hoose. Noo whit the hell are yese goin' to do aboot this?'"© Peter Rozovsky 2015