Monday, September 28, 2009

Review of All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney (Faber and Faber, 2009)

Gerry Conway is a journalist with the Tribune on Sunday, a Scottish paper of record that is feeling the pinch given slowly declining sales and a recent take over. Newly divorced, with two young sons, Conway’s personal life is in the doldrums, and his professional life seems precarious given rationalisations at the paper. When he’s contacted about a story concerning the Scottish Justice Minister, Peter Lyons, he initially dismisses it out of hand, but a photograph from the early 1980s showing Lyons at a UVF gathering in Belfast changes his mind. He soon discovers that Lyons returned to Glasgow in 1983 fearing for his life, and after a narrow escape whilst snooping at a loyalist, Orange parade in Lyons’ home town, Conway heads to Belfast to try and discover the reason for Lyons’ apprehension. At the time Lyon’s fled, the UVF had been responsible for three murders and Conway suspects that Lyons had been involved in at least one of them, only nobody in Belfast is particularly keen to rake over the past and the story appears to be going nowhere until a chance encounter with a Scottish gangster.

All the Colours of the Town is what I would call an ‘okay read’. It wiled away a few hours pleasantly enough, but it didn’t bowl me over. In part, I think my ambivalence is partly a matter of taste, something I’m becoming more conscious of as I write reviews. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I prefer relatively fast paced stories, strong on dialogue and action, rather than introspective tales that devote a fair chunk of the narrative to the inner thoughts of the lead voice. All the Colours of the Town has a good sized chunk of introspection, but for me it also has issues with padding and pacing. To take one example of padding, at one point there is a totally unnecessary paragraph describing a hotel cleaning cart. If it were removed, it would make absolutely no difference to the story, so why is it there? There are countless other descriptive passages that are really not needed and add little to the plot. With respect to pacing, the story seems to come in spurts separated with introspective lulls, and the ending is too hurried with one of the central characters falling out of view. For me, I think the book needed tightening up – if it lost 30-40 pages whilst retaining the same plot it would jaunt along at a nice, even pace. That said, the characterisation is fine and the story is interesting enough, and the book provides a contemporary companion of sorts to Stuart Neville’s The Twelve, with a Scottish twist on violence, politicians with shady pasts and Northern Ireland (my review here).

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