The Quaker [book review]

I ordered The Quaker, a book by Liam McIlvanney mostly because Liam is the son of WIlliam McIlvanney, whose Glasgow’s Laidlaw trilogy I found stunning. I was intrigued by the attempt at following in his father’s Tartan Noir steps. To make the link stronger this book won the 2018 (William) McIlvanney Prize for crime book! While there are many similarities between the stories, if only because they both take place in Glasgow in the 1960’s, where slums were gradually demolished to become high rises (themselves demolished much later in one of Ian Rankin’s stories, if in Edinburgh), where the police was partly corrupted by local gangsters, and where (im- and e-) migration was spinning the demographics of the city, the styles are different and The Quaker does not read as a clever pastiche. It is definitely a unique and brilliant book, from the vivid depiction of the Glasgow of these times (possibly helped by the fact that many locations were familiar to me from my several visits at the University of Glasgow), to the pretty convincing plot, to the psychological depths of many (male) characters. The women in the story are indeed mostly victims of the serial killer or witnesses, possibly towards reflecting the state of gender inequality in the 1960’s (as far as I remember there were more women at the fore in WIlliam’s books), with the inclusion of a victim of the Magdalene asylums. The outlying nature of the main detective is another feature common to father and son: while McCormack does not carry philosophy books to work, he remains apart from the other detectives, including a secret that threatens both the case and his career.

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