‘The Dark Remains’ by Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney
If the truth’s in the shadows, get out of the light …
Lawyer Bobby Carter did a lot of work for the wrong type of people. Now he’s dead and it was no accident. Besides a distraught family and a heap of powerful friends, Carter’s left behind his share of enemies. So, who dealt the fatal blow?
DC Jack Laidlaw’s reputation precedes him. He’s not a team player, but he’s got a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets. His boss chalks the violence up to the usual rivalries, but is it that simple? As two Glasgow gangs go to war, Laidlaw needs to find out who got Carter before the whole city explodes.
William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books changed the face of crime fiction. When he died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of Laidlaw’s first case. Now, Ian Rankin is back to finish what McIlvanney started. In The Dark Remains, these two iconic authors bring to life the criminal world of 1970s Glasgow, and Laidlaw’s relentless quest for truth. (Synopsis courtesy of Canongate)
Ok, I’m going to start with a caveat: never have I been more crabbit about a book review than this one.
As a Scotland-based book blogger, I have never chased harder, nor gone through so many channels or pulled as many puny strings as I have at my feeble disposal (short of messaging Rankin himself directly on social media. That just seemed icky) than I did when trying to get hold of an advanced copy of this book.
After all, I’m a middle aged white guy with a blog and I’m definitely in the top six million people in Scotland who blog about books. Don’t they know who I am?
No, they don’t. And I didn’t get a copy. And I was gutted. ‘Bugger them,’ I thought. I’m sure not having a review from me will decimate sales.
But it’s Ian Rankin. And William McIlvanney. And the audiobook is read by Brian Cox.
Ok, three of Scotland’s finest united? I crumpled like a gangster under a Jack Laidlaw interrogation.
Rankin is, in my irrelevant opinion, the best crime writer working today and joins a tiny list of authors who get bought no matter what. I have written about my admiration of Rankin’s Rebus series elsewhere, but here it bears repeating: he’s a writer who’s work I believe is going to be read in hundreds of years and outlive the ridiculous “literary” fiction which does nothing to accurately reflect its era and is dull to boot.
So, the best of the best, polishing off the original and the best in William McIlvanney.
The first piece of close reading (comprehension for those not in Scotland or of a certain vintage) I taught was an extract from ‘Laidlaw’. To this day, that novel remains a revelation in the use of simile and metaphor and the prose crackles with impactful imagery.
In these types of literary Frankensteins, it’s always tempting to spend a chunk of the novel trying to spot the joins.
The references to contemporary politics, the issues with Nixon and the creeping Americanisation of Scotland feels Rankinesqe.
Metaphors like “a hole deep enough to hold a coffin,” feels like vintage McIlvanney. I suspect this is the sort of case where I’m wrong on both counts.
But, mainly, who cares? This is the godfather being helped to posthumous glory by the pupil who became the master.
If I have a criticism, it’s actually with the production of the audiobook. The lack of spacing between chapter and even paragraph breaks means that it sounds like Cox has forgotten the words and is being rushed to catch up.
But this is a trifle and his performance is still excellent.
So, I’m pleased that I got over my mardy response to my rejections. Because this is the best in the business at the top of their game.
Highly, highly recommended.
Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature.
After university and before his success with his Rebus novels, Ian had a number of jobs including working as a grape-picker, a swineherd, a journalist for a hi-fi magazine, and a taxman. Following his marriage in 1986, he lived briefly in London where he worked at the National Folktale Centre, followed by a short time living in France, before returning to Edinburgh.
Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar Award for Resurrection Men. He has also been shortlisted for the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and Germany’s Deutscher Krimipreis.
Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Hull, Abertay, St Andrews and Edinburgh as well as The Open University. In 2019, he donated his archive of over 50 boxes of manuscripts, letters and paperwork to the National Library of Scotland.
Ian has received an OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his wife and two sons. (Biography courtesy of Hachette)
William McIlvanney’s first novel, Remedy is None, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and with Docherty he won the Whitbread Award for Fiction. Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch both gained Silver Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association. Strange Loyalties, the third in the Detective Laidlaw trilogy, won the Glasgow Herald’s People’s Prize. He died in December 2015. (Biography courtesy of Canongate)