The Quaker was, for me, the stand out book from the longlist. It’s one of those novels that as soon as I finished it, I looked forward to reading it again. Not only did I love the evocative recreation of Glasgow but the characters created were refreshing and surprising. It was such a pleasure to read.
he best part of The Quaker is its clever toying with one of the fundamentals of serial crime stories. McCormack is constantly drawn to the idea that with sufficient thinking some kind of pattern of motivations might emerge from the killings. This is not wholly like a novel, such as Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, where the desire to manufacture meaning becomes a kind of apophenia, the psychological condition where connections are seen where no connections exist. McIlvanney does give us connections between the various narratives, but they are occluded in a clever manner.
Set in Glasgow in 1969, Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker (HarperCollins, £12.99) is loosely based on the murders of the real – and never caught – serial killer “Bible John”, who is believed to have raped and strangled three women after meeting them in the city’s Barrowland Ballroom. DI Duncan McCormack is drafted in from the flying squad to review Glasgow CID’s failing investigation, much to the irritation of the incumbents, who have already attracted scorn from the media for their futile attempts to solve the case by mingling with the punters at the dance hall. A parallel narrative concerning safe-cracker Alex Paton, who travels home from London to take part in an auction house heist, is skilfully dovetailed as the plot thickens and McCormack gets drawn deeper into both cases. Despite some anachronisms, this is an atmospheric portrait of a dreich and seedy place in the throes of slum clearance, as well as a solidly crafted and satisfying detective story.