Monday, December 21, 2015

Review of Strange Loyalties by William McIlvanney (1991, Canongate)

After the death of his younger brother, Scott, Laidlaw decides to take a week’s break from the Glasgow police force to do a little private investigating.  Scott’s death seems like a straightforward misadventure, stepping drunkenly in front of an unsuspecting motorist.  However, Laidlaw is puzzled as to why his brother would have been so careless.  He therefore sets about trying to piece together a life that he barely knows despite being kin, though nobody else shares his desire to rake over the past.  Moreover, his new obsession is threatening his present relationship.  Nonetheless, Laidlaw has set off on a path of discovery and he’s determined to uncover the truth regardless of consequence.

Strange Loyalties is the third book in the excellent Laidlaw trilogy (you can find my reviews of the first two books here and here).  Whereas the first two are written in the third person, for this more personal outing McIlvanney swaps to a first person perspective, providing a richer perspective on the complexities and inner reflections of Laidlaw, a man driven by the need to find the truth and deliver justice, but burdened with an in-built self-destructive streak.  What separates McIlvanney’s crime fiction from most is, I think, its literary sensibilities.  While the stories are very much of the crime genre and are dark and gritty tales, they are crafted with prose and are rich in philosophical reflection.  Indeed, the central question at the heart of the tales is ‘what does this all mean?’ rather than simply ‘who did this?’  And so it is with Strange Loyalties, with Laidlaw trying to come to terms with the untimely death of his brother, picking away at questions that no-one wants answered except him.  While the telling is a little stilted at first, it soon finds its groove.  And while it is not the most cheery of tales it is compelling and haunting with Laidlaw seeking a truth that he knows he does not want to know.

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