The Papers of Tony Veitch By William McIlvanney

    Having thoroughly enjoyed Laidlaw (1977) by William McIlvanney, the first of the Laidlaw trilogy, I was keen to continue with the series. The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) is the second book and is arguably even better than Laidlaw.

    Many of the same characters reappear and we get more insights into the complex world of Laidlaw. Once again it's essentially a love letter to Glasgow complete with more remarkably accomplished set pieces. Some of the more metaphysical aspects reminded me of David Peace. The writing is sublime even as it describes a harsh and brutal world with its beautiful, haunting and poetic language. In short, it’s another crime writing masterclass from William McIlvanney. I eagerly await Strange Loyalties, the third instalment.

    4/5



    The dying words of an alcoholic tramp set Jack Laidlaw onto the trail of a certain Tony Veitch, a young Glasgow student who he discovers has been missing for several days. This book is the sequel to Laidlaw 9780340354728 [4.5] Every bit as good as Laidlaw, book one in the series (which I gave five stars) - only I'm not sure these benefit from being read quite so close together. They were written six years apart, after all. The earlier book's greatest strength was its existential depth, whilst here the plot is sharper and more taut. This isn't the first crime series in which I've noticed an author reusing a theme or structure so it felt as if they were, on some level, rewriting and improving on aspects of an earlier book: as in Laidlaw, there's a thriller structure in which both police and gangland thugs are looking for a young chap who got himself mixed up in a criminal world he's not quite part of.

    The events of Tony Veitch take place a year on from Laidlaw; there are a few references, but nothing that would impair the enjoyment of this book as a standalone. It nearly always gels, but occasionally, aesthetics are unmistakably 1980s: She was wearing a shocking-pink blouse with one shoulder and sleeve missing and leopard-skin trousers that would have fitted a gnat. And as in the previous book, there's stuff made of raffia - to me an impossibly 70s and 80s material...I sometimes wonder it if ceased to exist here before 2000.

    A couple of students are significant characters - one upwardly mobile, the brother of a gangster, one downwardly, a sort of class tourist too sincere to be fully desrving of that epithet. McIlvanney gives them more dignity than students tend to have in British litfic, yet they're not without callow earnestness. These characters give further scope for philosophical and political discussions in a natural way, and outside Laidlaw's own head. To create a character like the constantly-writing Tony Veitch may be a reflex for an author, but all his papers and scraps and paragraphs and long letters and essay fragments, a drive to write it down and attempt to communicate, lots of philosophising but nothing synthesised into a whole work, was something that struck a chord with me, far more than any story of a novelist does.

    This, from the thoughts of another more blatantly class-tourist character (her accent had got lost in the post) articulated some things I'd never even put into words in my own head before.
    She saw these young people dancing, bodies throwing themselves about, so careless, like casual conversation. They were a message that fascinated her because she could never quite understand it or imitate its tones, that unselfconscious declaration of self before departing into the dark. She imagined what boring jobs they must go back to, if they had jobs, that girl with a face tallow in the strobe lights, that boy who looked like a seedy angel and sneered at himself. They explained her flat to her. She had rejected her own taste and just bought kitsch because she felt that where she lived no longer mattered much, should be as anonymous as a railway station. Tony had taught her that. He had said, ‘Houses are ways of hiding from a more complicated reality, I think. They should have porous walls. The less they’re you, the nearer they are to communal places. Like the best working-class houses.’ These dancers reminded her of that, were all open doors.
    Yes, like cheap furniture from Argos, for example, bought at a time when I could have got better (or for that matter, better quality second hand) used to make me feel more connected to something more universal and important.

    He stood looking at the wall. Like a stag at bay, he was who he was, he was what he was, and nothing else. He saw no hope of proving what he suspected. He had half a vision and nobody else would begin to admit the possibility of the other half. He knew they were lying. It was all he knew. For the moment, it was all he cared about.
    I felt occasionally that Jack Laidlaw's epic-hero-detective character skirted parodic trope-ishness, not because he's not a wonderful example of his type, but because these days, after thirty more years, culture can't help having more irony; a showdown in a public place brought to mind Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant novels in which the protagonist is constantly being reprimanded and laughed at for similar. Mcilvanney is a master of metaphors and I'd been struggling to think of a way, a fraction as good as one of his, to describe this quality in Laidlaw, perhaps a square-jawed lone gunfighter in silhouette, his hair ruffled by the wind, forever the most righteous man on screen... Near the end it was evident he perceived something of this himself, saying of another character, the feeling he had had so often as a boy learning to drink in Glasgow pubs, of taking part in your own western. McIlvanney always has a better way of saying it, simultaneously grittier and more elegant. 9780340354728 Sencillamente me ha encantado, tanto el estilo de McIlvanney, como el personaje del inspector Laidlaw.
    Me enfrenté a este libro con cierto resquemor, ya que la trilogía del inspector Laidlaw (del que este es el segundo libro... no entiendo por qué desde Salamandra han empezado a publicarlos sin respetar el orden) es un clásico de la novela policíaca de los 70-80, y tenía miedo de encontrarme demasiada testosterona, alcoholismo y autodestrucción... y para nada.
    Se trata de una novela muy pausada y reflexiva (el que prefiera leer thrillers y acción a raudales, mejor que se abstenga), llena de reflexiones filosóficas y poéticas, con bellas descripciones y metáforas (ciertamente William McIlvanney escribía muy bien), que en el fondo contiene una bella declaración de amor del autor a la ciudad de Glasgow y a su gente.
    Y todo ello narrado con un tono ligero, con un humor sutil... con sorna y socarronería, que es lo que más me ha sorprendido (y muy favorablemente, por cierto). Humor y sorna que se ve que son el sello característico de las gentes de Glasgow, y del que el autor es un claro exponente.
    Por lo que se refiere a la estructura de la novela, nos encontramos con dos (o quizá tres) líneas narrativas: dos de ellas protagonizadas por la policía (una, la de nuestro protagonista, el inspector Jack Laidlaw, y de vez en cuando nos encontramos con la de su inspector rival, Ernie Milligan) y una protagonizada por una banda de delincuentes de la mafia escocesa. Ambos iniciaran una tensa búsqueda contrarreloj (con finalidades diametralmente opuestas) del desaparecido Toni Veitch, un joven de clase alta bastante ingenup, al que creen involucrado en uno (o tal vez más de uno) homicidios.
    Aquí más importante que la resolución del misterio (que al final no es tan sencillo como parece en un primer momento), es precisamente esa carrera entre ambos grupos, que nos permite y desvelando poco a poco qué pudo suceder, y de paso nos muestra un reflejo de los bajos fondos y de la investigación policial en los 80 del siglo pasado. Y lentamente el lector se va enganchando, quiere saber qué pasó, si encontrarán o no al famoso Toni Veitch, y quién está mintiendo y por qué.
    El ritmo, aunque pausado, está muy bien llevado, incrementando la tensión hasta el colofón final.
    En cuanto a la construcción de personajes, a mi juicio es otro fuerte de esta novela, especialmente por lo que se refiere al inspector Laidlaw (que se ha convertido en uno de mis crushes literarios): aunque tiene algún que otro problema personal (y quién no), ni es alcohólico, ni depresivo, ni tiene un componente autodestructivo. Antes al contrario, pese a sus imperfecciones es un hombre íntegro, que cree en la justicia para los humildes y es bastante obsesivo: cuando huele una pista no la suelta, se aferra a ella como un terrier sin importarle lo que opinen los demás.
    En definitiva, aunque no es en absoluto para todos los públicos, me ha parecido un novelón, y tengo clarísimo que si publican más novelas de McIlvanney las leeré seguro. 9780340354728 I quite liked this, but couldn't completely escape the fact I more 'appreciated' it than 'enjoyed' it. The writing is exceptional, the gritty Glasgow setting and colourful characters exquisitely brought to life, and so many wonderful witty turns of phrase - creative metaphor/simile after creative metaphor/simile - gave this a very stylish feel.

    I'm just a little disappointed that the plot lost me - the level of complexity was a bit too much, the amount of the writing dedicated to helping the reader understand a bit too little. It was almost as if because this was an early and seminal work in the Scottish Noir genre, it lacked some of the familiar frameworks around which many of the more modern more books I have enjoyed reading from the same genre. 9780340354728 The Papers Of Tony Veitch is the second in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Trilogy. It is recognised as being the origin of Tartan Noir and is a masterclass in how to write detective fiction. It is gripping, thoughtful, almost poetically descriptive at times and paints an extraordinarily vivid and penetrating picture of its setting and characters.

    The plot revolves around some of Glasgow’s “hard men,” serious gangsters who have an uneasy alliance when one of their own is stabbed. A complex story develops in which DI Laidlaw becomes almost crusadingly involved when a vagrant he knew is also killed and no-one seems to care much. The contrast between Laidlaw’s sense of decency and humanity and the cynicism of many of those around him is very effective and I found the story very involving. What really sets this above the crowd, though, is McIlvanney’s writing and his brilliant insights into the workings of his city and its people, and his very shrewd observations on all sorts of things. I picked out these few examples at random:
    Of a barman who keeps respectfully quiet: “It wasn’t that he knew his place so much as he knew where it wasn’t, which was in hospital.”
    “...that clique of mutually supportive opinion s that so often pass for culture.”
    Of a new development: “...a warm and vivid slum expensively transformed into a cold and featureless one.”

    The book is full of this sort of thing, and I loved it. Many of today’s giants of the genre, including Denise Mina, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, have praised McIlvanney’s work and it is easy to see why. I think this book (and the trilogy) is exceptionally good and recommend it very warmly. 9780340354728

    The dying words of an alcoholic tramp set Jack Laidlaw onto the trail of a certain Tony Veitch, a young Glasgow student who he discovers has been missing for several days. This book is the sequel to Laidlaw and was the winner of the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger Award. The Papers of Tony Veitch

    I’ve only read two William McIlvanney books so far, but he’s quickly become one of my favourite authors. Rather than telling linear tales in workmanlike prose that relies on melodrama or fast-paced action sequences to keep the reader’s attention, McIlvanney creates a layered, thoughtful story, rich in observational and philosophical asides told through evocative prose that has a nice cadence and vividly conveys the local dialect. It is a world full of greys, rather than black and whites, with Laidlaw a man of contradictions -- obsessive to the point of alienating colleagues in doing the right thing in his work, but failing in his home life by cheating on his wife. McIllvanney infuses the tale with an underlying pathos and world weariness, and conveys well the sense of place and communities of Glasgow in the early 1980s. The result is a very well told story with three dimensional characters and an intricate plot. I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the Laidlaw trilogy -- Strange Loyalties. 9780340354728 A love letter to a city…

    Tony Veitch has disappeared and it seems like half the city is looking for him. Laidlaw’s one of the searchers. He knows why he’s looking for Tony – his name’s come up in connection with Eck Adamson, a drunk and down-and-out, now dead; and it seems Laidlaw’s the only man who cares. But Laidlaw doesn’t know why some of Glasgow’s hardest men seem to be wanting to find Veitch too, and the question is – who’ll find him first?

    After being stunned by the first in the trilogy, Laidlaw, I approached this with some caution, for fear it couldn’t match up. But it does. We’re back in Laidlaw’s world - a good man trying to make sense of the hard and violent world he inhabits, trying to find justice for the people left on the margins. He’s not a loner, exactly, but he stands a little apart from the world – an observer with a compassionate eye, a philosopher. He’s not a team player – how could anyone live up to the exacting standards he sets? Even he continually fails to be the man he’d like to be, and his self-awareness won’t let him hide from that.

    One was young and pretty, made up as colourfully as a butterfly. The other was older. She had been pretty. Now she was better than that. She looked mid to late thirties and as if she hadn’t wasted the time. She had eyes that suggested you might find Ali Baba’s cave behind them, if you knew the password, and had managed to arrive before the Forty Thieves.

    The language is wonderful. It slips in and out of dialect seamlessly and the dialogue catches the tone and patterns of Glaswegian speech in a way I’ve never come across before. I can hear these people speak – hear the humour and the bravado and the aggression. He shows beautifully the odd mix of the Glaswegian character, with its kindness that must always be kept carefully hidden for fear of seeming soft. His villains are frighteningly hard without ever tipping over into caricature, and the ever-present threat of violence is chillingly believable.

    “Coulda made something o’ himself. But a luckless man. All his days a luckless man. The kinna man woulda got two complimentary tickets for the Titanic.” The unintentional humour of her remark was like her natural appetite for life reasserting itself. Harkness couldn’t stop smiling. It was as if Glasgow couldn’t shut the wryness of its mouth even at the edge of the grave.

    The plotting is complex and takes a different direction than the reader is at first led to expect. Tony is from a privileged background, in the financial sense, though not perhaps in terms of love. But somehow he’s got himself mixed up with the underworld of gangs and hardmen and now his life seems to be in danger. As Laidlaw hunts for him, the reader gradually gets to see different aspects of Glaswegian society, from Tony’s rich, successful but cold father to the gangsters dispensing their own form of justice towards anyone they feel has betrayed them.

    From his vantage point in Ruchill Park, Laidlaw looked out over the city. He could see so much of it from here and still it baffled him. ‘What is this place?’ he thought.

    A small and great city, his mind answered. A city with its face against the wind. That made it grimace. But did it have to be so hard? Sometimes it felt so hard…It was a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground. And what circumstances kept giving it was cruelty. No wonder he loved it. It danced among its own debris. When Glasgow gave up, the world could call it a day.


    But oddly, what this story is most about is love. The love of a sister for the brother who has fallen through life’s cracks into alcoholism and vagrancy. The love of a son which leads him to try to protect his parents from learning the truth about his brother. The love for a woman, which can lead a man to destroy his life. And most of all, the love of a city – the clear-sighted, complicated yet profound love that Laidlaw has for this place of contradictions where kindness and cruelty meet head-on. Glasgow, as the sum of its people good and bad, is the character that is at the heart of the book and McIlvanney makes us weep and rejoice for it in equal measure. A love letter from a man who sees the violence and darkness of the city, but also sees it as a place of courage and heart and humour - and ultimately integrity. A great book that gets my highest recommendation.

    www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com 9780340354728 Thin. The uninteresting crime story in this (the badger game? Really?) is just an excuse for McIlvanney to extoll the uniqueness of Glasgow (just once I’d like a story about Glasgow, NYC or wherever NOT to say its residents are the salt of the earth!) and use Laidlaw as the mouthpiece for a series of lectures on morality and life (including several on the tiresome “academics are phonies” theme) to people - i.e. everyone - who don’t live up to his standards; despite his supposedly hard boiled character Laidlaw basically is a self satisfied prig. 9780340354728 Audiobook rating (narrated by Mirko Marchetti):

    Story-⭐⭐⭐
    Narrative voice style-⭐⭐⭐½
    Vocal characterisations-⭐⭐⭐
    Inflection intonation-⭐⭐⭐
    Voice quality-⭐⭐⭐⭐½
    Overall-⭐⭐⭐ 9780340354728 Review to follow...what an exceptional book. I'm still digesting it. 9780340354728

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