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Issue 69 - Laying down the law

Whisky Magazine Issue 69
January 2008


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Laying down the law

Jefferson Chase looks at another Scottish born crime writer.

One thing cops and writers often have in common is the amount of their free time they spend in bars. Perhaps that's why many authors of “serious” literature feel themselves drawn, at the risk of their reputation, to writing about crime.

Such was the case with William McIlvanney.

Born in Kilamarnock, he had already made a name for himself as one of Scotland's leading literary talents before turning his attention to a Detective Inspector named Jack Laidlaw in 1977.

Critics accused him of selling out, but three novels eventually made up the Laidlaw series.

Strange Loyalties, which was written in 1991, opens with the detective mourning his younger brother Scott, who has been killed by a drunk driver.

An open-and-shut case, it would seem, but Laidlaw believes there's more to it.

That conviction leads him to delve into his deceased brother's recent past, including an affair with a married woman.

She sat against the bonnet of the Peugeot. She had legs from which fantasies are made. I tried not to make any. It wasn't easy. The urge to live is a kind of holy idiot. It finally understands nothing but itself. It has no sense of context.

Attending the funeral in all good faith, it may finish up wanting to screw the widow.

An essential ingredient of both good crime writing and good fiction is tone of voice, and McIlvanney gets it spot on.

As a first-person narrator, Jack Laidlaw ranks up there with Philip Marlowe, equal parts disgusted and bemused.

Although Laidlaw's friend...

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