Scottish crime writer William McIlvanney passed away in 2015, but he left an unfinished manuscript behind narrating his famous character Laidlaw's first investigation. Here Ian Rankin steps in to finish the text, delving into the criminal underworld of 1970s Glasgow and the origins of Laidlaw's relentless quest for truth.
... a standout, lyrically bleak novel ... the writing here is so sharp nearly every sentence could split open a haggis. (And I defy even the most ardent fans of McIlvanney and Rankin to determine which man wrote which passages.) ... The doctrine of social class as predestination has rarely been presented so succinctly. The distinct appeal of The Dark Remains, of course, is that it allows us readers to encounter the McIlvanney’s philosopher-detective before he hardened a granite legend ... The solution to the mystery of 'Who killed Bobby Carter?' is agreeably unexpected, but, as in so many excellent crime stories, by the time it emerges, many of us readers will be hazy on what set this investigation in motion in the first place. The point is the journey, to savor walking down the mean streets of 1970s Glasgow once again with the stoic Laidlaw.
There are multiple misdirections that seem more like Rankin than McIlvanney, and the revelation about the murderer was fairly easy to guess, but satisfying nonetheless. There are also a few references for the aficionados ... Tonally, it seems to be in the right key from the opening word ... The Dark Remains is both enjoyable and thought-provoking. I did wonder if the actual McIlvanney ur-text might ever be released, so one can sift through which piece of the jigsaw went where.
There are a couple of familiar Rankin traits in this novel and his style works well for the modern audience. Crucially, this is achieved without losing the essence of McIlvanney’s character or the philosophical musing, the hard edged look at Glasgow in tough times that underpinned the original trilogy. This is set in the 1970s so there’s more social commentary than in recent Rebus novels, these are times heavy with working class angst, misogyny, corruption and bigotry. Rankin is as strong on the compassion for the characters and their plights as McIlvanney was and there are plenty of keen observations on Glasgow people. Neither Rankin nor McIlvanney has ever been short on wit and that comes across in the sharp dialogue ... What happens in The Dark Remains, fits so well with the existing novels this can now legitimately be called a quartet ... a really satisfying crime novel, intelligent and gripping and very much in keeping with the spirit of the original, a superb read.