The Papers of Tony Veitch (Laidlaw Trilogy 2) by William McIlvanney

A love letter to a city…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the papers of tony veitchTony Veitch has disappeared and it seems like half the city is looking for him. Laidlaw’s one of the searchers. He knows why he’s looking for Tony – his name’s come up in connection with Eck Adamson, a drunk and down-and-out, now dead; and it seems Laidlaw’s the only man who cares. But Laidlaw doesn’t know why some of Glasgow’s hardest men seem to be wanting to find Veitch too, and the question is – who’ll find him first?

After being stunned by the first in the trilogy, Laidlaw, I approached this with some caution, for fear it couldn’t match up. But it does. We’re back in Laidlaw’s world – a good man trying to make sense of the hard and violent world he inhabits, trying to find justice for the people left on the margins. He’s not a loner, exactly, but he stands a little apart from the world – an observer with a compassionate eye, a philosopher. He’s not a team player – how could anyone live up to the exacting standards he sets? Even he continually fails to be the man he’d like to be, and his self-awareness won’t let him hide from that.

One was young and pretty, made up as colourfully as a butterfly. The other was older. She had been pretty. Now she was better than that. She looked mid to late thirties and as if she hadn’t wasted the time. She had eyes that suggested you might find Ali Baba’s cave behind them, if you knew the password, and had managed to arrive before the Forty Thieves.

The language is wonderful. It slips in and out of dialect seamlessly and the dialogue catches the tone and patterns of Glaswegian speech in a way I’ve never come across before. I can hear these people speak – hear the humour and the bravado and the aggression. He shows beautifully the odd mix of the Glaswegian character, with its kindness that must always be kept carefully hidden for fear of seeming soft. His villains are frighteningly hard without ever tipping over into caricature, and the ever-present threat of violence is chillingly believable.

“Coulda made something o’ himself. But a luckless man. All his days a luckless man. The kinna man woulda got two complimentary tickets for the Titanic.” The unintentional humour of her remark was like her natural appetite for life reasserting itself. Harkness couldn’t stop smiling. It was as if Glasgow couldn’t shut the wryness of its mouth even at the edge of the grave.

The plotting is complex and takes a different direction than the reader is at first led to expect. Tony is from a privileged background, in the financial sense, though not perhaps in terms of love. But somehow he’s got himself mixed up with the underworld of gangs and hardmen and now his life seems to be in danger. As Laidlaw hunts for him, the reader gradually gets to see different aspects of Glaswegian society, from Tony’s rich, successful but cold father to the gangsters dispensing their own form of justice towards anyone they feel has betrayed them.


From his vantage point in Ruchill Park, Laidlaw looked out over the city. He could see so much of it from here and still it baffled him. ‘What is this place?’ he thought.

A small and great city, his mind answered. A city with its face against the wind. That made it grimace. But did it have to be so hard? Sometimes it felt so hard…It was a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground. And what circumstances kept giving it was cruelty. No wonder he loved it. It danced among its own debris. When Glasgow gave up, the world could call it a day.

William McIlvanney
William McIlvanney

But oddly, what this story is most about is love. The love of a sister for the brother who has fallen through life’s cracks into alcoholism and vagrancy. The love of a son which leads him to try to protect his parents from learning the truth about his brother. The love for a woman, which can lead a man to destroy his life. And most of all, the love of a city – the clear-sighted, complicated yet profound love that Laidlaw has for this place of contradictions where kindness and cruelty meet head-on. Glasgow, as the sum of its people good and bad, is the character that is at the heart of the book and McIlvanney makes us weep and rejoice for it in equal measure. A love letter from a man who sees the violence and darkness of the city, but also sees it as a place of courage and heart and humour – and ultimately integrity. A great book that gets my highest recommendation.

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32 thoughts on “The Papers of Tony Veitch (Laidlaw Trilogy 2) by William McIlvanney

  1. FictionFan – Isn’t it lovely to discover that a stunner of a book wasn’t a one-off? I’m glad you enjoyed this one as much as you did. And what a great writing style. It just draws you in and makes you want to keep reading doesn’t it?


    • Yes, there’s always an apprension that a follow-up won’t live up to expectation, so it’s great when it does. His writing is wonderful – I don’t like to read books by the same author too close together, but I must admit I can’t wait to read the third one.


  2. Excellent review! “A love letter from a man who sees the violence and darkness of the city, but also sees it as a place of courage and heart and humour – and ultimately integrity.” Loved this sentence!!

    Okay, so the professor now knows why FEF is always mean with the professor. 😉

    You know, the professor would like to be Tony. Being hunted but never found. It would be such dadblame fun!


    • Thanks, C-W-W! Once you finish Bleak House, I may start a campaign to get you to read Laidlaw – you have been warned!

      😆 I did try to explain that being mean is the Glaswegian way of showing affection…but McIlvanney explains it much better than I ever could. I can’t risk looking like a big softie, can I?

      Fun up till the last few chapters, maybe… 😯


        • Good – my brainwashing must be working…

          Not Glasgow girls!! We’re tough and hard and mean…and very wicked! Just look at BigSister if you don’t believe me…

          No, no – no spoilers – ‘cos after you’ve read Laidlaw, I might try to persuade you to read this one too! 😉


          • 😥 I think it is… I’ve got this huge list…

            Hmm…sounds like the professor–which cannot be. So, something’s wrong. And BUS is sweet.

            That’s true. I’ll see what the professor can do about this.


            • 😆 Poor C-W-W!

              The Professor could be an honorary Glasgow boy, though, if he likes. They’re even tougher and harder and meaner and wickeder. Just practice saying ‘Oy, Jim! Whit’s your problem? Ye wantin’ a Glesca kiss, pal?’ (But don’t say it to a Glaswegian…)


            • You don’t mean it!

              Hmm…I’d like to work on the accent, but I really can’t say I know what it sounds like. The professor has told you, hasn’t he, that when he visits Scotland, I’ll copy the accent and ‘blend’ in. I’ll even say that last line to all the Glaswegian’s I see! 🙂


            • Eerily perceptive… 😉

              No, no – promise me you’ll never say that to a Glaswegian!! Not unless you’re just outside the ER…

              (An English friend of mine once pointed out a guidebook where the Glasgow nightclubs and ERs were all listed on the same page…not really the best way to entice tourists… )


  3. Great review. So glad you enjoyed this – I’ve been a McIlvanney fan all my adult life, partly because he resisted the temptation to turn Laidlaw or Glasgow into a caricature, or into a series which would sell just because of the success of the trilogy.


  4. I love the sound of this one! I still have Laidlaw downloaded ready to read following your review so I really must get to it soon as this sounds like a series well worth pursuing 🙂 Great review as ever and I love the language too… the stuff about the eyes has me hooked!


    • It really is a great read – it’s one of those books that you could open at nearly any page and find something quoteable. It probably affects me more because it’s about Glasgow, but I’ve seen glowing reviews from non-Scots too. I really hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 🙂


  5. Skimmed the review, as I’ll read this later this year – hopefully! Loved the first and I’m happy to glimpse that it’s a worthy follow on. When do you plan on reading the 3rd?


    • Yes, I thought it was just as good as the first one. I’ll try to hold off for a while before reading the third – I don’t like reading books by the same author too close together. Probably May/June…if I can restrain myself…


  6. I know what you mean re spreading them out. I’d be curious to know if you’ve tried any of his other work. Less crime genre, but a good book’s a good book no matter how you label it, in my opinion. Me – so far I’ve just read Laidlaw with the other two series books on the pile. Haven’t been tempted yet to diversify, though I have tried his son also.


    • No, but I intend to after I finish the trilogy. I read one of his son’s books too, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it had the authenticity of the Laidlaw books. I felt if I hadn’t known that he was William’s son, I might have enjoyed Liam’s book more – but I found I was always making comparisons.


      • Interesting comment re father and son. I read the second Liam book a few months ago and enjoyed it. I suppose I didn’t make the comparison between the two – although I knew the relationship because I viewed Laidlaw as more of a….historical – isn’t the word I’m looking for….but it’s set in a world that whilst still occurring in my lifetime is no longer there today….. aperiod piece, maybe……whereas the son’s is more contemporary.

        I’m rambling now, so I’ll shut up!


        • I think I feel the way I do because I’ve lived in Glasgow through both periods. William’s Glasgow is completely real and exactly as I remember the 70s and 80s here. Not just the streets and gangs, but the speech patterns, dialect etc. Whereas Liam’s Glasgow doesn’t feel like today’s Glasgow to me at all really. Too much emphasis on gangs and corruption, which is much less of a problem than it used to be, and he didn’t really try to get the Glasgow speech at all. I felt his book could have been set in any city, whereas William’s could only have been set in Glasgow.

          See? I can ramble too… 😉


          • My sole Glasgow experience has been a visit to a supermarket in Blantyre, working 10 hours there maybe 20-odd years ago, so you are in a much better position commenting on authenticity!


  7. Every time you mention the Laidlaw series I swear I will get hold of the first one and then forget. Well, this time I’ve done it. I’ve just downloaded ‘Laidlaw’. That will make me read it.


    • Hurrah! I hope you enjoy it – in fact. I’m (almost) sure you will. Apart from the fact that it’s good in itself, it’s interesting to see how it’s influenced the Rankins and MacBrides and so many other British crime writers…


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