Friday, January 3, 2020

Review of The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney (2018, Harper Collins)

Glasgow, 1969. A group of detectives have spent months trying to catch The Quaker, a killer who has raped and murdered three women. Their investigation has ground to a halt and the media have turned on the team. Senior management decide to send in DI Duncan McCormack, a young, quickly rising detective to the team to review the investigation with a view to learning lessons and wrapping it up. He’s met with resentment. The case was meant to be the making of the team members, instead it’s become a blot on their careers. It doesn’t take McCormack long to spot the errors and new potential leads. Then a new murder is committed and the team have a firm suspect. McCormack is convinced they are chasing the wrong the man, but has difficulty persuading others. They need a conviction and closure. Instead, McCormack is left to solve the murders, though gaining justice may come with a heavy price.

Based loosely on the ‘Bible John’ serial killer case in Glasgow in the late 1960s, The Quaker charts the attempts of the police to catch a man who has raped and killed three woman after taking them to a local dance. Despite his public appearances and thousands of posters littering the city, months after the last death he’s still not been caught. The police have hit a wall. With no new deaths or leads senior management are looking to wrap up an expensive investigation. The story follows DI Duncan McCormack’s attempt to assess what went wrong and his slide into conducting his own investigation of the killings as he spots fresh connections. When a new murder is committed and a new suspect emerges, McCormack senses that it’s a setup, again defying the desired outcome and continuing his pursuit of the real Quaker. The story is fairly conventional police procedural that’s tightly plotted, with a couple of nice twists, and unfolds at a steady clip. McCormack is an interesting ‘loner’ character who has his own secrets, and there’s a strong sense of place, charting the social and geographical changes to Glasgow given the mass slum clearances and building of flats and new towns. Overall, a nicely told, engaging tale of vicious crime and internal police politics and rivalries.

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