Laidlaw – Glasgow grit – William McIlvanney


If you are looking for a novel set in Glasgow with a difference, then William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw novel may be the one for you. It’s grim, bleak but oh so intriguing. Authentic in language and setting and evocative and suggestive of so much more.


The cars controlled the people. Sauchiehall street was a graveyard of illuminated tombstones. Buchanan Street was an escalator baring strangers.

George Square. You should have known it. How many times had you wanted for one of the  buses  that ran all through the night? The Square rejected you.

you could only walk and be rejected by the places where you walked…


Glasgow of course is a major character in the Laidlaw novel and the descriptions are evocative of a dark side of the city that you won’t necessarily want to visit.

However this is the joy of fiction is it not? to see and wonder about a city that you may or may know. A side to the city that is a fictional creation but a thriling one at that. McIlvanney’s Glasgow is a bleak place indeed.

You could walk for as long as you liked in this city and it wouldn’t know you.  You could call every part of it by name. But it wouldn’t answer.

The novel is a journey around this city of dank despair – and when it opens with a girl’s body found in one of the city’s parks, it is up to Laidlaw and his team to find out what happened. the race is on. However the real race seems to be between them finding the killer and the girl’s father finding who killed his daughter. The father has contacts in the city’s underworld which changes things.

A Glasgow Green B Jocelyn Square (Law Courts) C george square D Buchanan Street E Sauchiehall Street F Kelvingrove park
A Glasgow Green B Jocelyn Square (Law Courts) C George Square D Buchanan Street E Sauchiehall Street F Kelvingrove park

This is the Glasgow of the 1970s – not just the streets and the city atmosphere but the attitudes, lifestyle, drinking culture and of course the language. All focusing on building a highly evocative image of the underbelly of the city, its people and the time period –

“Across the street the door of the Corn Exchange opened suddenly and a small man popped out onto the pavement, as if the pub had rifted. He foundered in a way that suggested fresh air wasn’t his element and at once Harkness saw that he was beyond what his father called the pint of no return.”


The Glaswegian dialect makes for some evocative Tartan Noir gems too  –

To Harkness speech seemed like  a foreign language here.

‘Oh, they’re in an awfy state, sir,’ the old man said. ‘Sadie especially. Ye couldny get sense oot o’her. They’ve had an awfy time , ye know.


The Glasgow humour and foreboding even appears in a simple description of the weather –

Sunday in the park. It was a nice day.  A Glasgow sun was out, duly luminous, an eye with cataract. 

This may not be the kind of tour that a guide from Visit Scotland might offer and indeed remember that this IS fiction and that Glasgow is one of the friendliest and cultural cities in Scotland. Not to mention the  walks beside the canals, the pedestrian city centre and the architecture..

Glasgow's Buchanan Street today
Glasgow’s Buchanan Street today

Definitely a city to explore and admire in real life although if you’re also enthralled by a dark underbelly of a city, and some fine crime writing, then this novel is for you.

One thought on “Laidlaw – Glasgow grit – William McIlvanney

  1. Pingback: July 2014’s classic crime in the blogosphere | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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