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William McIlvanney changed the face of crime fiction, and arguably Scottish fiction, when he created Glasgow-based detective Jack Laidlaw, heralding the start of so-called ‘tartan noir’.

Although McIlvanney wrote several other more literary and equally beautiful novels, for the Laidlaw books are beautiful, the latter are particularly dear to me. I’m not sure if it’s McIlvanney’s pared back style, elegant prose or wonderful evocation of place, but there’s something rather special about them.

For many years they remained out of print – I first came across them in a second-hand bookshop while at uni at Edinburgh – but thankfully Canongate has brought them to new audiences. They influenced many wonderful crime writers, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin among them – and it’s Mr Rankin who finished The Dark Remains, the Laidlaw novel that was incomplete when McIlvanney died in 2015. For many crime-fiction fans, the combination of McIlvanney and Rankin will be the ultimate dream team, especially as Rankin’s Rebus is often lauded as the Edinburgh Laidlaw. But does The Dark Remains stand up to the earlier novels?

From its first lines, The Dark Remains is an immersive read, evoking the sense and style of the early Laidlaw books, but with enough difference to also make it Rankin’s own. And like books one and two, it returns to the third-person narrative – Strange Loyalties written in the first person. But this is very much an homage to the original master, and in that sense it works.

Set in 1972, so earlier than McIlvanney’s trilogy, the plot features a much younger Laidlaw, who’s a detective constable. He’s still cynical, philosophical and reads Kierkegaard and Camus. He’s still an outsider, and like Rankin’s Rebus, arguably more comfortable in the city’s underbelly than with his fellow officers, with whom he plays badly. But this Laidlaw is married (although the cracks are there; he spends most of his nights in a hotel) and has recently joined the Glasgow Crime Squad, where he’s paired up with the much slower DS Bob Lilley, who’s meant to be keeping an eye on him.

Cue a potential turf war between Glasgow’s leading gangs, the catalyst the murder of brutal gang lord Cam Colvin’s right-hand man, found ‘lying spread-eagled in a handy puddle’. Rival gangster John Rhodes is a suspect – both Colvin and Rhodes featuring in the original Laidlaw books, as do other characters and, indeed, places that Laidlaw fans will recognise.

As I said, this is an homage to McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, and it’s a good one, a great one even: highly enjoyable, well-paced, with enough detail and references to the later books to please diehard Laidlaw fans. It’s also a book that readers can come to as a standalone and enjoy, hopefully leading them to the original Laidlaw trilogy. And do read all of them please – actually, do read all of McIlvanney’s books. Docherty and The Big Man, in particular, are just wonderful – and also available from Canongate. Clever Canongate.


William McIlvanney is an award-winning author. A novelist, poet, short story writer and journalist, he is seen as the godfather of ‘tartan noir’. McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy were published between 1977 and 1991: Laidlaw (1977); The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983); Strange Loyalties (1991). He also wrote other highly regarded fiction such as Whitbread winner Docherty. He died in 2015. The McIlvanney Prize is awarded each year for best Scottish crime novel. For more information re: the author’s writings, see Personal Despatches by William McIlvanney.

Ian Rankin is an acclaimed Edinburgh-based author. The creator of the much beloved John Rebus series, he was awarded an OBE in 2002. He was asked to finish the late McIlvanney’s last unfinished Laidlaw novel by Siobhan Lynch, the later writer’s partner. For more information on the author and his writing, see Ian Rankin.

The Dark Remains | William McIlvanney & Ian Rankin | Canongate

paperback: June 2022 | £8.99

also available in hardback, ebook, audio

please use your local libraries and independent bookshops

Acknowledgements: This is the first review we’ve written in quite some time due to illness. It is published as part of the publisher virtual book tour. Many thanks to lovely Tracy Fenton, Anne Cater and to the publisher for sending a review copy. All views expressed are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other great reviewers on the tour.

Also of interest:Alice Walker and the power of poetry‘; Anita Nair’s Bangalore detective Borei Gowda‘;’Michael Connelly’s epic hero, Mickey Haller‘;‘Chris Whitaker’s small-town America’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Sanctuary: an Old Familiar’; By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

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