My thanks to the Canongate and Jamie Norman for an advance copy for review
Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 September 2021 from Canongate Books
If the truth’s in the shadows, get out of the light . . .
Lawyer Bobby Carter did a lot of work for the wrong type of people. Now he’s dead and it was no accident. Besides a distraught family and a heap of powerful friends, Carter’s left behind his share of enemies. So, who dealt the fatal blow?
DC Jack Laidlaw’s reputation precedes him. He’s not a team player, but he’s got a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets. His boss chalks the violence up to the usual rivalries, but is it that simple? As two Glasgow gangs go to war, Laidlaw needs to find out who got Carter before the whole city explodes.
William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books changed the face of crime fiction. When he died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of Laidlaw’s first case. Now, Ian Rankin is back to finish what McIlvanney started. In The Dark Remains, these two iconic authors bring to life the criminal world of 1970s Glasgow, and Laidlaw’s relentless quest for truth.
I recently re-read Laidlaw for the inaugural outing of The Bloody Scotland Book Club, so with that fresh in my mind, I was intrigued and excited to pick up The Dark Remains. It is a prequel to the three Laidlaw books which comprise Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties, all recently re-published by Canongate.
We are introduced to D.C. Jack Laidlaw, very much an outsider and certainly not a team player in the Glasgow Crime Squad. He hasn’t even joined The Lodge, the best method of obtaining advancement in a Police Force riddled with corruption. Gang wars in Glasgow are at their height. Territories have been marked, gangs are tooled up and we are introduced to a number of tough and ruggedly hewn characters. Cam Colvin is a gang boss; Micky Ballater a ‘fixer’ and then there are the men like Panda Paterson whose muscle earns them their place in the hierarchy of a crime boss’s fiefdom.
Laidlaw whose interest in human nature is the special element he brings to the table, draws a distinction between those like John Rhodes, a crime boss who understands the nuances of how this game is played and retain their own code of honour – and so this makes him a man Laidlaw can do business with – and the likes of Cam Colvin whose only interest is in money and the lifestyle and power that brings him.
Glasgow is gritty, tough and unapologetic. Its soul is imperilled. Sectarianism is rife on the streets, men are supposed to be hard and drinking keeps them mean. Women are the recipients of all the rage that boiling over working class masculinity brings to the party.
Bobby Carter was a dodgy lawyer and right hand man to Cam Colvin. His body was found in an alley by the Parlour pub, out of Calvin’s territory and smack bang in the heart of John Rhodes’ patch, found by a couple out for a knee-trembler. At once suspicions are rife as throughout the gangland world rivals eye each other up for the murder and the tensions rises as Glasgow holds its breath waiting for an eruption of violence on the streets.
DC Laidlaw is teamed up with DS Bob Lilley and by and large they are a good match, even if Laidlaw does tend to leave Lilley behind as he pursues his own investigations, ignoring the instructions of the newly promoted, but not very bright, DI Ernie Milligan. Milligan intends to make his name in this case and he’s determined that Laidlaw, whose reputation precedes him, will not get in his way.
As Laidlaw thinks his way through this case, eschewing the door to door enquiries that Milligan would endlessly consign him to him, he goes looking for the bystanders in this case; those who know the streets and have passing acquaintance with the characters as he slowly pieces together the life and times of Bobby Carter, asking sometimes surprising questions and carefully filing away the answers. It is only when he sees a blank space in the picture that he creates that he knows he has to go looking for something more as he investigates not so much the fingerprints and other concrete evidence, but the causality of this crime.
There is a great deal to admire in this immersive book. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue crackles with wit. Glasgow feels dirty, menacing and smoky with that undercurrent of danger that ripples through the mean streets. There are moments of sheer genius too. A dinner party concocted by Ena and Bob Lilley’s wife is a severe blow to Laidlaw’s own image of himself and you can feel the tension over the table when Ena talks about Jack’s propensity for staying in a city centre hotel while he’s on a case.
Verdict: Does this book stand up in its own terms? Absolutely! Has Rankin managed to accurately recreate the atmosphere of Glasgow that permeated all of McIlvanney’s books so thoroughly? Yes and in spades. The prose is perhaps less lyrical than its predecessors but the spirit and intentions are all faithful and honestly it in no way felt like the work of two writers. Utilising Willie McIlvanney’s half-finished manuscript, Ian Rankin has brought Laidlaw’s melancholic character back to life and through this book he has run a thread that so beautifully captures all the complexity and ambiguity of Laidlaw’s character as first published. For so many reasons, The Dark Remains is a must read book.
William McIlvanney is the author of the award-winning Laidlaw trilogy, featuring Glasgow’s original maverick detective. Both Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch gained Silver Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association, while the third in the series, Strange Loyalties, won the Glasgow Herald’s People’s Prize. He died in December 2015.
Ian Rankin is the number one bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus series. The Rebus books have been translated into thirty-six languages and are bestsellers worldwide. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, including the prestigious Diamond Dagger, and in 2002 he received an OBE for services to literature. He lives in Edinburgh.