Source: My Own Copy
In the chilling new crime novel from award-winning author Liam McIlvanney, a serial killer stalks the streets of Glasgow and DI McCormack follows a trail of secrets to uncover the truth…
Winner of the 2018 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year
A city torn apart.
It is 1969 and Glasgow has been brought to its knees by a serial killer spreading fear throughout the city. The Quaker has taken three women from the same nightclub and brutally murdered them in the backstreets.
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!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liam McIlvanney‘s first book, Burns the Radical, won the Saltire First Book Award. He is also the author of two previous novels, All the Colors of the Town and Where the Dead Men Go, which won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. He is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Guardian. He is Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and four sons.