Sunday, July 19, 2015


WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by Liam McIlvanney
Faber, paperback edition, October 2014

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Glasgow stands on the precipice: of hosting the Commonwealth Games; of a nationwide vote on Scottish independence; and of an explosive rekindling of a brutal gangland war. Enter Gerry Conway, the protagonist of Liam McIlvanney’s superb debut thriller ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN (Faber, 2009).

McIlvanney, the son of the man Ian Rankin credits as the godfather of Tartan Noir, famed Scottish novelist and ‘Laidlaw’ creator William McIlvanney, has made us wait for the second instalment in his Gerry Conway trilogy. But is the wait worth it?

In short, ‘och aye!’

Having returned to the Glasgow Tribune after three years marooned in public relations, Conway is no longer the prodigal son. Instead, he’s the golden child fallen. A jaded, jobbing journo in a dying industry, clinging to the coat-tails of the man who usurped his place, his once-protégé, star crime reporter Martin Moir.

But when Moir’s body is fished from a quarry just as a big story about a gangland shooting breaks, Conway finds himself once again thrust to the forefront. Does he still have what it takes?

Does he still want to have what it takes?

The criminal underbelly of Glasgow swirls around Conway as he tries to discover the truth behind his colleague’s death. But it’s a truth that many in the city would prefer to keep hidden, with the Commonwealth Games and the vote for independence on the horizon.

Gangsters, politicians, and other predators are all circling Conway.

McIlvanney delivers a terrific crime novel that is about much more than its page-turning plotline. Pressing social issues and a fantastic evocation of place are delivered by quality prose as we follow Conway’s journey into the murky grey of his city and himself. The decline of newspapers, and the flow-on impact that is and could have on politics, justice, and so many other issues is beautifully captured.

McIlvanney raises questions in the reader’s mind not just about ‘whodunnit’, but also about broader, universal things that potentially touch all of us. Importantly, however, he does so through the prism of an exciting, tense story filled with interesting characters and incidents, rather than from a soapbox.

WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO is an outstanding thriller, well-deserving of being named the winner of the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, and one of my favourite reads of the past couple of years. I really hope we see more Conway books from McIlvanney soon.

This is an expanded version of the short review I wrote about the original release of WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO in 2013, when I rated it as one of my favourite reads of the year. McIlvanney won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award

1 comment:

  1. I'm two thirds of the way through All The Colours Of The Town, and I have this book, which I bought on Kindle before I knew the family connection. I don't know, it just didn't occur to me!! Once I realised, I got All The Colours Of The Town too. I feel in Scotland/UK he's very much in his father's shadow (I adore his father's work, and am meant to be doing an e-mail Q & A with him shortly as a promo for BloodyScotland, but am tentatively hoping he gets back from holiday in time, so keep an eye on my blog if you're interested in McIlvanney père -, or follow me on Twitter @crimeworm1, anyone welcome! I'm just praying the publishers get it together!) I think Liam's ,a fantastic writer, he can be utterly sublime in parts, working under tough circumstances when it comes to his work, as his father IS the Godfather of Scottish crime. Hopefully he'll be more prolific than Dad, and come out from under his shadow. I also enjoy the way he uses current Scottish events as a backdrop - that is not dissimilar to Ian Rankin. The author has points to make, politically or socially, like in all the best crime fiction. Roll on number three....(And whispers of another Laidlaw have been heard, but whether it'll come to fruition is another matter. Fingers crossed!)