Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 January 2022 from Harper Collins
My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review
A deadly fire…
An arson attack on a Glasgow warehouse causes the deaths of a young mother and child.
Police suspect it’s the latest act in a brutal gang warfare that’s tearing the city apart – one that DI Duncan McCormack has been tasked with stopping.
A brutal murder…
Five years ago he was walking on water as the cop who tracked down a notorious serial killer. But he made powerful enemies, and when a mutilated body is found in a Tradeston slum, McCormack is assigned a case that no one wants. The dead man is wearing a masonic ring, though, and Duncan realizes the victim is not the down-and-out his boss had first assumed.
A catastrophic explosion….
As McCormack looks into both crimes, the investigations are disrupted by a shocking event. A bomb rips through a pub packed with people – and a cop is killed in the blast. The cases are stacking up, and with one of his own unit now dead, McCormack is in the firing line.
But he’s starting to see a thread – one that connects all three attacks….
You can take the man out of Glasgow, but, thank goodness, you can’t take Glasgow out of the man. Liam McIlvanney’s The Heretic is a smasher of a book. It crackles and zings with the life and spirit of Glasgow, good, bad and truly terrible; with the violence that belongs in that city’s history, could we only contain it there.
Set in 1976, amid the rubbish strikes, it is seven years since Detective Duncan McCormack took down the serial killer known as The Quaker and with him someone who made McCormack deeply unpopular among many of his own colleagues.
With a lot of great press after his achievement, McCormack went back to the Met as part of the Flying Squad, and now has returned to Glasgow to head up the Serious Crime Unit. But between his accepting the appointment and coming back, things have changed somewhat and his new boss, DCI Alan Haddow is already not his biggest fan. In his team are DS Derek Goldie, DC Elizabeth Nicol and DS Iain Shand. Derek Goldie, left behind when McCormack went South, has been something of a pariah in his own neck of the woods for the last seven years and has suffered some of what should really have come McCormack’s way. DC Liz Nicol, was part of the now disbanded women’s section and is holding her own well in this team. It is DS Ian Shand who is the unknown quantity and early on his trustworthiness comes into question.
It’s clear that McCormack has come back for reason of his own, though it takes a while for those to emerge. What we do know, however, is that Detective McCormack is keeping a secret that he can’t afford anyone to know about.
McCormack is on a mission to bring down gangland boss Walter Maitland, but Haddow, who is determined to stop McCormack becoming crowned in glory yet again, pulls him off that case and orders him to investigate the body of a supposed tramp, found in a midden in a back close.
Now, there’s no denying that there are a good few murders in this book and it deals with gangland violence, corruption, prostitution, arson and torture. These are extremely well plotted murder mysteries and McIlvanney’s taut execution of plot is one reason why this book works very well. It’s dark and authentic and his characterisation is excellent. The sense of the era is terrific, too. The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland are never far away from the events in The Heretic and McCormack’s own Catholic background comes into the way he is perceived in the gang war between Maitland (Protestant) and Quinn (Catholic).
This is a book you really will not want to put down. It’s engaging, the story is compelling and the characters fascinating.
I read through this book with the hugest grin on my face because McIlvanney has encapsulated everything about the city so well. He wears his knowledge lightly, but with incredibly erudition and that’s what makes this book quite so rewarding.
The Heretic is not just a great crime thriller, it’s also got some fabulous characters. Duncan McCormack is the ultimate outsider by geography, orientation and mind-set. Liz Nicol is a great addition to his team. She is perceptive, not afraid to speak her mind and well up to the challenges of her job. Even the villains are three dimensional.
I found myself smiling as I recognised the reference to the ‘wee lassie from Garfield Street who had done so well’ and at one point I shouted out ‘the Crocodile Rock’ as I solved part of McCormack’s mystery trail. I learned how to say ‘evil bastard’ in Gaelic, which will, I’m sure, come in handy and I laughed with pleasure when Duncan McCormack went to visit an old friend at F Division’s Cumberland Street. McIlvanney writes with pace and pleasure and that transfers itself to the reader in spades.
Verdict: If you’re a fan of the Scottish Crime Thriller genre then this will be a must have addition to your library. If you’re new to the ‘Tartan Noir’ genre, this and its predecessor, The Quaker, are a great place to start. Either way, The Heretic is a stand out, brilliant read that I am highly recommending. The writing alone makes it a must read book.
Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. He has written for numerous publications, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian. His debut, Burns the Radical, won the Saltire First Book Award, and his book, Where the Dead Men Go, won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The Quaker won best Scottish Crime Novel of the Year in the Bloody Scotland Awards, named after Liam’s father, William. He is Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and four sons.