Written by Liam McIlvanney — Somehow I managed to miss All the Colours of the Town, Liam McIlvanney’s debut, but after reading a couple of pages of his latest I went straight to Amazon and bought a copy, because this man writes up a storm. Where the Dead Men Go, like his previous novel, centres around Gerry Conway, a reporter on Glasgow’s Daily Tribune. It’s a newspaper suffering from dwindling circulation and the general trend towards online coverage, with foreign owners pushing for a more tabloid feel as they eye the bottom line.
The events at the end of the first book led to a period working PR in London for Conway but he’s returned to his old stamping ground, only to find himself demoted from lead crime reporter to the political correspondent. His friend and former protégé Martin Moir now grabs all the by-lines on the crime beat. Then a gang enforcer is fatally shot during a Saturday league game, signalling the rekindling of hostilities between the city’s two major gangs, the Neils and the Walshes. With Moir gone AWOL, Conway is drafted in to cover the story.
Moir stays absent, Conway stays on the job, and then the call comes. Moir is found dead in his car at the bottom of a lake, his hands lashed to the steering wheel. It’s possible he killed himself but is it likely? Is that really how he’d do it? The police and the coroner quickly agree on a verdict of suicide but Conway isn’t so sure. They might not be as close as they once were but he doesn’t see it in Moir’s character. Under some emotional pressure from Moir’s widow, he begins digging professional dealings, assuming that 10 years spent irritating Glasgow’s gangsters would make a man unpopular.
The investigation takes Conway from seedy brothels on rundown estates – where up and coming gangs are fighting hidden turf wars with the old guard – and into the discreet halls of power where the future of the city is being mapped out. The two worlds are closer together than either side would care to admit. With money and reputations on the line, Conway could find himself going to same way as his former protégé.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for crime novels involving journalists. In the best ones you get all the thrust of investigation without the flab which occasionally bogs down police procedurals. McIlvanney hits the balance just right. Gerry Conway is an attractive central character, refreshingly free of demons, a family man who’s juggling his home commitments with his job. He’s connected but not compromised, and a great tour guide through Glasgow, a city which plays host to more than its fair share of top flight crime writers. With the Conway novels McIlvanney proves he can hold his own with the best of them.
Where the Dead Men Go is an utterly compelling thriller, smart and complex, written with a sharp eye for character and location. It can be read as a standalone but I’d strongly recommend starting with All The Colours of the Town.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 5 Stars