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The Dark Remains by Ian Rankin & William McIlvanney


Ian Rankin finishing a McIlvanney manuscript was always going to be one of the biggest events in Scottish crime for a long time. Now out in paperback, it has won plenty of plaudits and been a Sunday Times bestseller.

The Dark Remains is a prequel to the original Laidlaw series. Set in a dark and atmospheric version of Glasgow’s 1970s underworld, it brings together an assortment of gangsters, crooks, snitches and warring families. The sheer size of the cast of sometimes minor characters can become a bit unwieldy and hard to follow, but the heart of the story is a very simple 'who done it?' There is a body, a mystery and gangland tensions that are threatening to boil over.

The body in question is that of lawyer Bobby Carter, who is the right hand man of gangster Cam Colvin. Its discovery, behind a local pub, threatens to be the catalyst for violence across the city.

The murder is the first mystery for DC Jack Laidlaw, who has recently joined the Glasgow Crime Squad. Something of a lone-wolf, Laidlaw doesn’t respond well to the confines that come with the squad or his colleagues.

More interested in taking the investigation into his own hands than sitting behind a desk and answering to others, Laidlaw lives out of a hotel and does things his way. With the books of Unamuno and Camus on his desk, and particularly when talking of his wish to see “Socrates patrolling the Gallowgate on an Old Firm night” it's quickly evident that he does things differently.

Many of the traits that Rankin brings out will be familiar to anyone who has from the original Laidlaw trilogy. The familiarity of the character, the setting and the time period lead it to serve as something of an origin story: how Laidlaw became Laidlaw.

As you would expect, Glasgow itself plays a central role in the story. Just as he has done for Edinburgh in the case of Rebus, Rankin brings the city to life in an evocative if gently cliched fashion. It comes with all of the grit, grime, poverty and deprivation that you would expect from any Tartan-noir depiction of the city and the time.

Despite there being perhaps a few too many period references, the Glasgow that is depicted stays on the right side of cliche and doesn’t feel anywhere near as dated as I had maybe expected it to.

With 40 chapters over 285 pages, the short and punchy episodic structure gives it a brisk pace that makes it all the more readable. At its best the book is poetic and provocative, with powerful nuggets and reflections throughout. One that stands out is Laidlaw’s observation that "the law is not about justice. It's a system we've put in place because we can't have justice."

There will be many who bought this as soon as it came out, and hopefully many more who will do so now that it is in paperback. A clever, layered and thoughtful police procedural, this is one that I polished off in just a couple of sittings. While being a bit more Rankin than McIlvanney, I have no doubt that it will come to be regarded as a must-read for fans of either or of both men.

The Dark Remains gets a comfortable 4/5 from me.


The Dark Remains | By Ian Rankin & William McIlvanney | 321 pp. | Canongate Books | Paperback £7.49


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