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With the two McIlvanney writers as father and uncle, it is no wonder that Liam produces such fine work. The writing talent is deep in his genes as displayed by this his latest novel. Have I read a better crime novel in recent years. An emphatic no. For strangers to Glasgow it is simply a gripping novel based loosely on the never caught terror of The Barrowland Ballroom , Bible John. For those like I who were enjoying the 60s in the Dear Green Place it is a time machine taking you back 50 years to the dance halls, pubs, cafes , music and football of that time. I can vouch for the authenticity and painstaking detail . Who else remembers Harry Margolis and his ballroom orchestra, the Magic Stick and the price of a half and a half pint back then. Against this background is a sordid, multiple rape and murder mystery involving the Glasgow underworld, straight and bent coppers and a dedicated , clever D I McCormack a highlander who himself is not all that he seems. The dialogue is fast, funny and true to the time. There are more than a few twists and surprises as the investigation proceeds. Is the perpetrator brought to justice or like the Bible John murders never solved? Don't let me spoil it for you, buy it and enjoy it as much as I did.
Old enough to remember Bible John and the shock waves that ran through Glasgow at the time (one of the bodies was discovered near where I lived), I greatly enjoyed reading Liam MacIlvanney's fictional recreation of these events. Readers unfamiliar with the city or the Bible John murders will still find this a good read with an ingenious plot leading to a surprise, and satisfying, denouement. There are plenty of fascinating characters on both sides of the law with the interaction between them producing some realistic and entertaining dialogue. The period ambience is convincingly observed and Liam MacIlvanney's writing recalls some of his father's linguistic skills, although he is very much a class act in his own right (or should that be 'write' ?).
I’m often a tad suspicious when a book wins so many awards and is so acclaimed by so many. This book however deserves all the accolades apportioned to it. It is simply one of the very best crime fiction novels I’ve read. Set in 1968-1969, an era I know something about because I was there! Albeit a teenager at the time but the historic detail within the book is absolutely spot on. Four women have been murdered in Glasgow and discovered in condemned tenement buildings and one was dumped on wasteland. There are both unusual and common factors to the murders that lead the police (polis) to conclude that it is the work of one man. The women had been out to dancing venues in Glasgow and each had recently associated with a religious bible quoting man with fair hair. The media and the investigation team referred to the man as The Quaker and hence this became his nickname. At a time when birth control for women first became easily obtainable from a GP, it was the time of sexual liberation for women and casual encounters with the opposite sex were becoming more acceptable, at least amongst the youth of the day - it was the era of ‘free love’ and many took advantage. Glasgow however was in the grip of fear of this elusive murderer, who despite a massive media campaign and his photofit image appearing everywhere still had not been caught. ‘With a nod to the real life crime case of a religious man known as Bible John, a bible quoting serial killer at large in Glasgow 1968-9’ The lead protagonist in this book is DI Duncan McCormack, a popular and successful Flying Squad officer. We know little about McCormack except for his origins in a small village in Argyll. Early on though it’s revealed that he has clandestine outdoor encounters with young men. At a time period where men having same sex relationships could be shamed publicly and jailed, he takes a massive risk of discovery. McCormick is sent to Glasgow from the Highlands to try to help wrap up the Quaker case with the team of officers when the search for him is getting stale after several months and there are no new leads. The Glasgow team though make McCormack feel as welcome as a dose of cholera (think SO19 personnel in The Line Of Duty) police officers investigating other police officers (or so they think) has never been particularly welcome within the force in the UK, today or historically. Despite their often open hostility to McCormack. One officer in the team, Goldie slowly and reluctantly at first works well with him and eventually the two become a team of their own. The investigation is thorough, the list of suspects grows until a safe breaking peterman crook uses a top floor flat in a condemned tenement in Glasgow to hide out after a ‘job’ involving breaking into an auctioneers. When another woman is found dead - murdered in the building where he is in hiding, he is conveniently put in the frame as The Quaker. While there are gruesome details in this book, there is nothing gratuitous. The details are important to the plot and very relevant. There are no so called ‘twists’ in this book. To call them that is far too pat and conventional. I would call them completely gobsmacking false trails and multi-layered events that lead you up one highland path and down some very dark gulleys into a conclusion that left me completely breathless. Thank the gods, I’ve heard that there is a sequel to The Quaker out soon!
Excellent book. Completely evokes the times in which the storyline is set- late 1960’s. This was a time of gangs, corrupt police and social reformation; in this case, Glasgow. Some reviewers have voiced their dislike of the characters- well, that’s what they were like then. In respect of police, results were more important than the actual guilt of a would be suspect. It was dog eat dog, pay offs, back stabbing and extreme violence. D.I. Mc Cormack has been seconded from the Flying Squad, to assess and potentially write off a series of vicious murders of three women, in Glasgow. He’s made as welcome, by colleagues, as a rat in a bakery. The only detective who has some time for Mc Cormack is D.S. Goldie. Together, they sieve through complicated evidence, getting nowhere fast. The storyline is intricate and gripping. I’ve never been to Glasgow but from the descriptions, I could have been; they very detailed. The question is, can justice win over corruption? Well written and highly recommended.
Expect the unexpected in this pacy, clever story of murder and corruption,set in late 1960s Glasgow. There are hints of Bible John, a world of shady gangsters, safe crackers and at its centre a detective to rival Morse
This book was declared winner of the 2018 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year and I can see why. For me it was the perfect crime novel and I read it over 2 days which with my normally slow reading pattern is a guide as to how gripping I found the book, from it’s opening page through to the reveal at the end.
The novel takes it’s inspiration from the real life murders that horrified Glasgow in 1968/9 by a perpetrator christened Bible John. In McIlvanney’s re-imagining his murderer is dubbed The Quaker. Like his real life counterpart he meets his victims at the Barrowland Ballroom, only to leave them dead in the crumbling tenements and courtyards of the city. It’s a story that is well told, with enough detail to portray the hideousness of the crimes and the fear it provoked, but without crossing the line into gratuitous voyeurism.
It’s a novel that also has brilliantly defined characters, not all like-able, but definitely realistic. It also has a sympathetic lead D.I. in the shape of highlander Duncan McCormack. He’s successful, popular and destined for great things and yet his dogged persistence ruffles feathers and his private life is problematic.
Perhaps the greatest character in the novel though is Glasgow. Admittedly it’s largely the darker side that’s perfectly evoked as it reveals the decay, the corruption and the gangland culture of the period. Yet like the city itself, it was not all dark, and it’s a portrayal with an underlying feeling of warmth and respect for the place and it's people.
Glasgow. 1969. A serial killer known as the Quaker has lured three women from the same nightclub and viciously murdered them. As the police’s laborious investigation drags on, the sense of fear is palpable and the cops are seemingly no closer to establishing the killer’s identity. Enter DI McCormack, a talented young detective who has been dispatched to Glasgow to shut down the botched investigation. Before he can pull the plug on the case, a fourth woman is found dead in a derelict tenement flat and McCormack becomes determined to win over his suspicious colleagues and nail the culprit.
Winner of the 2018 Scottish Crime Book of the Year, The Quaker is a visceral, relentless police procedural that drags the seemingly clean-cut McCormack through the grit and grime of late-60s Glasgow. The seedy atmospherics are utterly convincing and the level of period detail is similarly excellent.
The Quaker is a ferociously entertaining thriller that successfully blends a pungent David Peace-style Red Riding ambience with a dose of Glasgow grit and a genuinely gripping plot. Fantastic stuff.
I bought this in the strength of the review by Val McDermid At first I thought it was going to turn out a thief of my time, but I stuck with it and it came good in the end. The second half was quite a good novel.
I read the book from beginning to the end. The story held my attention, but it just was not my type of book. , I wanted it to be as I have never read anything hailed as Scottish book of the year. Still nearing the end I was making myself continue. Detective stories of themselves do not interest me but foreign or outside of my life often let me into a world not my own so giving me a real taste of a different culture. I particularly like Italian detectives having been through Venice Sicily and Rome courtesy of those authors. I am particularly enamoured of a Dublin born author, John Connelly. His books are set in America but in a world which grew inside his head. The books I read are mainly S/F not for the science but by transporting me to cultures I could not experience in my life.
Very enjoyable story, believable characters and a great feel for the sooty Glasgow of the sixties. But.... did McEwans Export cans have ring pulls in 1968? I seem to remember that you needed a tin opener to make two holes in the top of beer cans until the early 70's and would Street Fighting Man really have been played at the Barras in 1968? Beggars Banquet didnt come out til Dec 68 and Street Fighting Man was not released as a single until 1970 I think. Sorry just my obsession for detail and going by how good the rest of the book is I am probably wrong about these two very minor details