Strange Loyalties

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

STRANGE LOYALTIES, like its predecessors LAIDLAW and THE PAPERS OF TONY VEITCH, features Scots police inspector Jack Laidlaw, a pessimist who is nonetheless continuously moved to appreciate and uphold what little virtue he encounters in the human world. Well known for inventing this character, veteran novelist and poet William McIlvanney confronts him with a tragedy (the death of his brother Scott) and a crime (the murder of a drug dealer, Meece Rooney).

Scott Laidlaw has been run over and killed by a car, and Jack is at pains to discover the source of the despair which inclined his brother to a suicidal carelessness. Scott taught art in a school in Graithnock, not far from Glasgow, and when Jack returns there after the funeral, one of Scott’s paintings, and a reference to a man in a “green coat” by various people who knew Scott, draw Jack deeper into the mystery of his brother’s despair.

At the same time, Brian Harkness, Jack’s police assistant, brings to his attention the torture and murder of Meece Rooney, a drug dealer, and the disappearance of Rooney’s lover, Melanie McHarg. The connection between this murder and Scott’s despair turns out to be a ruthless criminal, Matt Mason, whom Scott’s friend Dan Scoular has robbed in order to take care of a fighter he has blinded in a contest in which Mason backed Scoular. That Scoular is in danger from Mason, Scott, despite his promise, has failed to inform the police—that is,...

(The entire section is 418 words.)