In 1977 William McIlvanney released Laidlaw, a novel which is widely regarded as being the first Tartan Noir novel. Following his death in 2015 the award for the best Scottish crime book was renamed the McIlvanney Prize in his honour. This year the prize was awarded to William McIlvanney’s son Liam for his novel The Quaker which is loosely based upon the three Bible John murders in Glasgow in the late 60’s. Fans of Ian Rankin will recognise Bible John from the 8th Rebus novel Black and Blue.
After a Prologue and the first of three disturbing chapters telling the murders from the perspective of the victims The Quaker begins with DI Duncan McCormack entering the Bible John murder investigation room. It’s been over a year since the first murder and the investigation has ground to a halt. He’s been sent there to write a report on the investigation, a report which senior hope to use as justification for winding up the investigation. McCormack isn’t happy to be there, he’d rather be chasing down Glasgow crime boss John McGlashan. He’s not made welcome either and a frosty partnership with DS Goldie begins. McCormack will eventually write his report, but he’ll also become obsessed with the investigation and try to solve it himself.
Running parallel to the McCormack’s story is one dedicated to Alex Paton, a former Glasgow resident and peterman, who’s returning to Glasgow to take part in a robbery. Paton is precise, doesn’t take unnecessary risks and resents having to pay a percentage of their takings to McGlashan, a fee for carrying out a robbery on his patch. The storylines slowly converge and after a fourth murder the police think they have their man, but do they?
There is a third and final part to The Quaker which makes it stand out. Although Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at Glasgow University, he now lives in New Zealand where he is the Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at University of Otago. This gives The Quaker a strong sense of an outsider looking in at the people and city of Glasgow during a time when the city was undergoing a period of great upheaval. A time when many buildings were being torn down and neighbourhoods changed overnight. It all makes for a highly enjoyable read and DI Duncan McCormack is also a character who deserves future novels.