I used to think I knew the names of all major Scottish writers, although of course I hadn’t read every one of them. When William McIlvanney died last year, I was surprised by the the number of authors, from Irvine Welsh to Ian Rankin, who claimed he’d influenced them, as I didn’t remember having ever heard about him before. After some hesitation I bought his first crime novel and now I’ve read it.
And I was surprised again. How could I have missed such an outstanding author for so long? Even allowing for the bias in the book’s favour I probably have on account of its mentioning so many Glasgow places I know, its enlightened attitude (it was first published in 1977) towards homosexuality, and its having a cynical eponymous character, it’s still a masterpiece. Imagine a Scottish novel by Ed McBain who’s been helped by Raymond Chandler for the wisecracks and by Iain Banks for the geography and the ambience (and of course the lingo) …
I don’t say it’s one of the top ten books of my life. I do say I wasn’t amazed by a first-time-read book as much as by this one for quite some time. During the last two years I’ve read several books I enjoyed but don’t expect to ever read again. This is not one of them.