Where the Dead Men Go (Conway Trilogy 2) by Liam McIlvanney

Gangland headlines…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

where the dead men goWhen top crime reporter Martin Moir of The Tribune turns up dead, his colleague and friend Gerry Conway finds it hard to accept that his death was suicide. Conway had been a mentor to the younger man but Moir’s success in getting exclusives about the workings of the underworld had given him top billing on the paper. Now Conway must return to covering crime at a time when two rival gangs are facing off against each other and a street war looks likely. And he must also try to find out the truth of what happened to Moir…

Set in present day Glasgow, this is a well written story with noir-ish tendencies. Glasgow is shown as a city of violence where rival gangs divide up the turf and corruption is rife. Conway’s job as a reporter gives McIlvanney the opportunity to look at the changing world and diminishing importance of newspapers in the age of online news. Conway’s character is well developed as we see him struggle to juggle the demands of the job and his family (partner, ex-wife and children). As Conway’s investigation begins to uncover the depth of the corruption, he and his family become the targets of the gangland bosses. A flawed hero, Conway’s integrity is put to the test when danger threatens and, as in all noir, moral certainties become blurred.

Liam McIlvanney is the son of William McIlvanney of Laidlaw fame so it’s hard to read this book without drawing comparisons. Like Laidlaw this book concentrates on the seamier side of Glasgow life, the underworld and gangsters for whom violence is a way of life. Both writers are noir-ish in their view of the city and both see justice as something that happens beyond the bounds of courts and law. However, while I found William’s picture of ’70s Glasgow frighteningly accurate, Liam’s portrayal of the present-day city seems somehow outdated. Of course, as in any big city there are still gangs and gangsters in Glasgow, but they don’t keep the city in fear the way they once did. I felt Liam overplayed the importance of the gangs and the level of corruption and this detracted from the overall credibility of the story for me. William McIlvanney used Glasgow dialect and speech patterns to brilliant effect in Laidlaw; Liam barely uses dialect at all and I felt this was a distinct lack that prevented the book from being as firmly rooted in the city as it might have been. In fact, this book could really have been set in any big city, whereas in Laidlaw Glasgow was brought uniquely to life.

Liam McIlvanney
Liam McIlvanney

Unfair to compare father and son, I know, but hard to avoid, especially since Liam McIlvanney has chosen to re-inhabit the territory that his father made his own. Without comparison though, this is a good read on the whole, well written and with strong characterisation. The plot is complex and interesting, although I had a few issues with its credibility and not just the ones I’ve mentioned already around the portrayal of Glasgow. Overall, though, this is an above average crime/thriller that will certainly encourage me to look out for more of Liam McIlvanney’s work in the future. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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13 thoughts on “Where the Dead Men Go (Conway Trilogy 2) by Liam McIlvanney

  1. FictionFan – Thank you as ever for your candor and for a fine, fine review. To be perfectly frank, the gang war context isn’t my thing so much. Still, I like a story with well-drawn characters and Glasgow’s a fascinating city. I may put this on the list…


    • Yes, gangland stuff isn’t really my thing either, but there is a mystery element to this too, though that was one of the areas that led to me having credibility issues. In the end, more thriller than crime, I’d say.


  2. I’m another reader who doesn’t automatically pick up the latest gangland novel. However, you have reminded me that I meant to put ‘Laidlaw’ on my list; thanks for that.


  3. Ah, the son must slay the father to make his own way in the world. Perhaps this was just the honing of the knife. In his second effort, he may set a different course away from his father or he may best him at his own game. Stay tuned for book 2!


    • Thank you! I’m glad you think so too – I was worried that maybe there was a huge gang war going on just up the road and I hadn’t noticed…but I think when gangsters start going by names like Gerbil then they’ve really passed their peak of scariness…


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