The Quaker

Written by Liam McIlvanney

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Quaker
RRP: £12.99
Released: June 28, 2018

Glasgow in 1969: the old tenements are being bulldozed to make way for tower blocks. This transition period is chaotic and confusing, providing lucrative opportunities for criminals, many of whom are connected with a mafia-type network, its godfathers in plain sight but untouchable, others unsuspected, hidden until Nemesis arrives.

Nemesis in this novel: the shaky, shady Marlowe of these mean streets, is Duncan McCormack, an asthmatic middle-aged DI, unmarried, a steady pit bull of a fellow now fuming as he’s pulled off his own cherished investigation where he had got so close to one, McGlashan, Glasgow’s godfather supremo, that he was about to bring him in. Being blocked by his own people is a body blow apparently justified by McGlashan being merely a gangster who could keep, whereas a serial killer at large damages reputations.

A parallel investigation has stalled. Over a short period three women had been murdered: raped and strangled by a man the media have dubbed the Quaker. There were clues but none could be read; there were suspects galore because the killer had been seen by at least one witness so there was a description of sorts, not only of his appearance but of his clothes. For all this, and innumerable witnesses’ statements, the police are blocked. Now McCormack’s brief is to wind things down, close the case and write a report.

He is of course hated on sight. A closet gay (at a time when homosexuality is illegal) he chooses to team himself with DS Goldie, the most rabid homophobe in the Quaker Squad. Despite the aggression, the veiled threats, McCormack sticks rigidly to his job, coming to the required conclusion that the Quaker has left the area and the investigation should be wound down.

Promptly there’s another murder but this time the suspect is seen leaving the scene of the crime in daylight, the clues he leaves are read correctly: fingerprints everywhere and on file, and the police have their man. It’s too easy. McCormack has doubts.

Now throughout this long novel, starting with the Prologue, there have been two threads running parallel: one a sub-plot, the other curious insertions from the murdered women, recorded in the first person after death. But as the sub-plot unfolds, with preparations for an armed robbery, commission of the crime and the villains’ subsequent actions, it’s the safe breaker involved who engages all our attention. Alex Paton is an import from London, a sympathetic character and a worthy opponent for the puppet masters who link the parallel plots. It’s an intriguing experience for the reader to unravel the links, to jettison all the clever red herrings and arrive at a name and the identity of the Quaker. The finish is a grand blackmailing climax that is sophisticated, correct and satisfying.

Initially I didn’t like this book. It was long and weighty: misogynist and homophobic; it had police brutality and it signalled corruption. It was crude, coarse and boring. In the event it was all of that except boring. It was highly exciting: the under-belly of a great city at a crucial period in its history: raw, vibrant, full of action and colour, its dialogue – and dialect – authentic. I couldn’t put it down and I have to admit that, lost in the politics of this police procedural, in the fears and courage and greed of the gangsters, I forgot the genesis: the murdered women. But then surely the focus was not on sex but power and that we had in spades.

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor