When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Kelvingrove Park, only one man stands a chance of finding her killer. Jack Laidlaw. He is a man of contrasts, ravaged by inner demons but driven by a deep compassion for the violent criminals in Glasgow's underworld. But will Laidlaw's unorthodox methods get him to the killer in time, when the victim's father is baying for blood?
'Laidlaw' is one of those books I have been meaning to read for years, so sat myself down, turned off the phone and read McIlvanney's first of his trilogy. Well, it was not what I expected. Firstly, McIlvanney's writing is sublime. Looking at his impressive résumé, McIlvanney won many awards for his novels, including the Silver Dagger for this trilogy, his only crime fiction output. This is not your everyday quick read. McIlvanney's prose demands you take notice and give it your full attention.
McIlvanney brings his cast of characters to life, not just Laidlaw who, back in 1977 when this was published, could be the original broken cop out of Scotland. If I had to put money on it, I would say Laidlaw had sired Rebus during one of his dalliances!
This felt to me more of a Glasgow kitchen sink drama involving the residents of this dark city, some who are affected by Jennifer Lawson's death, (the destruction of her mother and the rage of her controlling father), to others who did not know the girl, but feel that with her murder they have all been tainted by this young death and feel the outrage that settles on this community. This is not a 'whodunit', but a dissection of how a hideous crime like murder can affect and send ripples through a whole community.
This is a novel that affected me by McIlvanney not shying away from delivering blow after blow during the aftermath. He steps up the ante as Laidlaw desperately tries to find the killer of this young woman before others do. Homosexuality had been legal since 1967 only in England and Wales. It wasn't until 1980 when it was legal in Scotland, so anybody gay in Scotland during McIlvanney's novel would have been operating illegally.
I don't know how 'Laidlaw' was received back in 1977, but reading it in 2021 I can say this is a powerful novel showing a writer at the height of his craft. His writing is darkly poetic and has a rhythm that drew me in, empathising with these people caught up in this heart-wrenching drama. Those people in 'Laidlaw' are so etched in my mind, they will be there with me for a long time.