International Crime Fiction: LAIDLAW, by William McIlvanney

Post by Molly
This month in international crime fiction, we travel to the rain-soaked streets of Edinburgh in the 1970s. Europa Editions, through their World Noir imprint, has brought Laidlaw, the first of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Investigations across the water for their debut on American soil. McIlvanney is considered the father of “Tartan Noir,” which, admittedly, describes a wide variety of Scottish detective novelists whose main commonality seems to be their country of origin rather than any unified style. Still, before McIlvanney began writing his trilogy of novels starring DI Laidlaw and DC Harkness in the mid-1970s, crime fiction was virtually nonexistent in the highlands or the lowlands, and most detective novelists in Scotland today, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina, have been strongly influenced by these early works.

In McIlvanney’s first novel, simply titled Laidlaw, a young woman has been brutally murdered. DI Laidlaw, a detective of unusual methods and dour visage, must go in search of a killer. To complicate matters, the girl’s father is also searching for his daughter’s murderer. If Detective Laidlaw finds him first, he has the hope of a fair trial and a life in prison. If the girl’s father finds him first, his brief and tortured existence will come to a sudden end.  To complicate the matter, the father has strong connections to the local mafia, some of whom take a moral stand against sex crimes despite numerous other criminal activities and are willing to give as much aid as necessary to make the father’s revenge complete.

McIlvanney has written in many genres and mediums during his lifetime, including poetry and screenwriting. He has an innate understanding of how to use the framework of a murder to draw attention to wider divisions and dysfunctions in society. Laidlaw uses each point in the narrative as a chance to reflect on the wider implications, and McIlvanney deliberately structures his narrative to allow for these moments of reflection. Laidlaw, despite a length of around 250 pages, manages to delve into homophobia, class conflict, drug addiction, religious divisions, and terrible weather, and each pause for thought is more beautifully written than the last. In particular, McIlvanney creates DI Laidlaw – intuitive, working class, and voice of humanistic tolerance – and then writes DC Harkness – college educated, young and handsome, bigoted and superior – as the perfect foil. Their debates contain many of the divisions of Scottish society that still exist today.

Much of what comes to mind when we think about Scotland – rain, lack of humor, depressed introspection – lend themselves particularly well to the noir genre. While reading Laidlaw, I got the sense that noir coming to Scotland was noir coming home. Europa Editions, as they continue to release McIlvanney’s novels, do a great service to the American reading public, and I, personally, cannot wait to read the next one.

If you liked this, check out:

anything by Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid, or Christopher Brookmyre

Laidlaw, by William McIlvanney, is available on our shelves and via Molly blogs on international crime fiction every third Thursday of the month. Her last post took a look at Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy. Look for her next post on September 19.

2014 Edgar Award Nominees Announced

The Mystery Writers Of America announced this year’s Edgar Award nominations. You can personally congratulate one of the Best Novel nominees, Ian Rankin, when he’s here at BookPeople on January 28th with his latest Rebus novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible. 


Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook
(Grove Atlantic – The Mysterious Press)

The Humans by Matt Haig
(Simon & Schuster)

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
(Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
(Minotaur Books)

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
(Hachette Book Group – Reagan Arthur Books)

Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy
(Penguin Group USA – Dutton Books)

See the nominees in all categories. Congrats to them all! 


photo (34)

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
Reviewed by Raul

John Rebus has been one of my favorite detectives for years, and Malcolm Fox is becoming another; that Ian Rankin, one of the best mystery writers around, can create two disparate characters who are compelling on an individual level shows his mastery of the genre. In the Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus and Fox work together to solve a thirty year old case that is related to Rebus’ early years.

When Rebus started as a DI in the Summerhall CID, he was inducted into a club of good ol’ boy cops named the Saints. These were the cops who regularly coerced, lied, and sometimes beat confessions out of suspects. On one occasion, a snitch named Saunders avoided an inquiry into the beating death of a man with the Saints’ help. Fox becomes involved because the solicitor general wants to prosecute the man since the double jeopardy laws have changed in Scotland, and Saunders may testify against the Saints.

Meanwhile Rebus, demoted to DS, is working a case with DI Siobhan Clarke involving a car accident that has suspicious undertones. The friendly banter that has developed over the years between the two detectives plays itself out delightfully well in this book; Clarke is Rebus’ superior officer, but that does not stop the ribbing that goes back and forth. When the simple investigation is complicated by more serious crimes, Rebus is convinced that there is more going on that what they have discovered.

Fox, on the outs from the Complaints, is eager to find out the truth about what really happened thirty years ago, and uses Rebus to get information on the Saints. The remaining members of Summerhall CID, in particular the former director Gilmour, ask Rebus to get information on the inquiry and report back to them. When evidence begins to disappear, the inquiry takes on a darker tone. The book illustrates why Rebus is such a remarkable character, for no one can play both sides against the middle as well as he does.

The best part of the book has to be Rebus and Fox working side by side. A straight-laced cop like Fox and the pragmatic Rebus soldier on despite the deceit because they both want to find out the truth. Rebus helps the solicitor general’s inquiry when it becomes stuck and Fox helps Rebus and Clarke make actual progress on the accident case. There is a new respect burgeoning between the two, and fans can feel confident that either a little bit of Rebus will rub off on Fox or some of Fox will rub off on Rebus.


Ian Rankin speaks about & signs Saints of the Shadow Bible here at BookPeople on Tuesday, January 28 at 7pm. Books & tickets for the signing are now available in-store and via We are currently taking orders for signed copies of Saints of the Shadow Bible. We ship worldwide. 

If You Like Rebus….

With Ian Rankin bringing back his popular Rebus character in his new book Standing in Another Man’s Grave, it made us think of other brooding detectives in fiction. We put together a list of other sleuths you may find as engaging as the hard case, Scottich DI.

1. George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret

First Book: Lock 14

The original moody police detective. Maigret’s mysteries have as much to do with life and French society as they do with murder. Still one of the greatest existential sleuths of all time.

2. Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva

First Book: Blood Of The Wicked

Silva is a rarity in San Paulo, Brazil – an honest cop. From an upper class family, he carries a dark history, delving into every social strata in his city for justice.


3. Russel D. McLean’s J. McNee

 First Book: The Good Son

An ex-copper turned PI in Dundee Scotland, McNee carries a smart mouth and a lot of baggage. His cases, like The Lost Sister, prove to be both emotionally and physically harrowing.

4. Jonathan Woods’ Inspector Diaz

First & Only Book: A Death In Mexico

Diaz is a policeman in cartel-controlled Mexico. Even though there are few vices he turns down, he has a personal sense of honor. Possibly the funniest of our picks.

5. Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Laughlin

First Book: Shatter

O’Laughlin is a British psychiatrist, who consults with the police and is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Helooks into the most twisted minds of his country. His banter with ex-copper pal Ruiz is reminiscent of the way Rebus talks with his partners.

The Return of Rebus

When authors bring their series characters back after a period of time, it doesn’t always work. Many times it feels like a grab for a paycheck or former glory while the hero feels somehow out of place and time. None of that occurs in Standing In Another Man’s Grave, however, where we get the return of Ian Rankin’s surly, Scottish Inspector Rebus in true form.

In fact Rebus has only been technically retired. Like his LA counterpart, Harry Bosch, he has been doing civilian work on the cold case unit. When a woman walks in with a tale about her daughter who went missing over a decade ago, Rebus hears the woman out. It seems that at least two other people disappeared on the same road. When he asks the woman who the last detective was she brought the information to, he learns that it’s his former partner, Clarke.

Rebus ends up working the case with Clarke in his old squad room, feeling the energy again. Since they’ve raised the retirement age, he considers reapplying. A major stumbling block in front of this is Malcolm Fox, the internal affairs detective and hero in Rankin’s last two books, who has Rebus in his cross hairs. When he first meets with Rebus he says, “I’ve gone through you’re file…actually it’s more like a whole shelf.”

As always Rankin makes the procedural elements snap. It’s believable that previous police officers would overlook some of the evidence that catches Rebus’ eye now. As a reader, you follow his deductions, both enlightening and false, which makes for some great interactions as he questions suspects. He uses the current police methods, especially with social media, not only to inform the reader but to make Rebus feel out of place. When wondering if he should come back he says, “My network is those streets.”

Of course as in any Rebus novel, it’s Rebus that makes it work. Still drinking and smoking non-stop, his attitude fits Rankin’s prose style like a glove and his banter with Clarke and practically anybody else is engaging, sharp, and quotable, with a curmudgeonly tone to it. While he takes the case out of a sense of duty, you also feel it’s because investigation is the only thing he was made to do (as well as to piss some people off.)

When Rebus questions someone he’s had a run in with before, the criminal says, “You’re the same… A little older and fatter.” Rebus responds, “I can’t argue with that.”

Neither would we or would we want to.

What Scott’s Reading

This week I’m reading books that will soon be coming into the store. The first two will be on our shelves next week. The third goes on sale in March.

Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Rebus returns, and this time, the retired inspector gets pulled into a missing persons case and set in the sights of Rankin’s new character, Complaints Detective Malcolm Fox. The book has great deadpan exchanges, like this one between a criminal and Rebus:

Criminal: “You’re pretty much the same, except a little older and fatter.”

Rebus:”I can’t argue with that.”

The Heroin Chronicles edited by Jerry Stahl

A mix of crime and general fiction authors, some recovering users themselves, tell short fiction stories revolving around the the drug, providing an interesting meditation on addiction. If you can handle the first story, Tony O’Neill’s Fragments Of Joe, you can probably take on the rest.

Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Frank Bill delivers on the promise of his debut collection, Crimes In Southern Indiana. It is like a great psycho-billy album in book form, with several deranged hard cases all heading to a bare knuckles contest. Both the action and dialogue pack a wallop.