The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney #BookReview

The Quaker is watching you…

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.

A detective with everything to prove.
Now, six months later, the police are left chasing a ghost, with no new leads and no hope of catching their prey. They call in DI McCormack, a talented young detective from the Highlands. But his arrival is met with anger from a group of officers on the brink of despair.

A killer who hunts in the shadows.
Soon another woman is found murdered in a run-down tenement flat. And McCormack follows a trail of secrets that will change the city – and his life – forever…

Title: The Quaker | Author: Liam McIlvanney | Series: DI McCormack #1 | Publisher: HarperCollins | Pages: 400 | ISBN: 9780008259945 | Publication date: 28th June 2018 | Source: ARC .mobi from NetGalley

‘The Quaker’ is a genuinely gripping, atmospheric and convincing crime story set against the back drop of late 1960s Glasgow. It’s inspired by a real-life series of killings committed by a man christened ‘Bible John’ by the press. Author Liam McIlvanney wisely uses the case as a starting point for his story, rather than attempting to recreate it accurately. The result is a really compelling mystery that I couldn’t put down. 

McIlvanney’s hero is DI McCormack, a determined young detective with a secret. McCormack has been sent to audit the investigation into a number of killings by serial rapist and murderer ‘The Quaker’ which has failed to yield any results. There’s a palpable tension between McCormack and the officers whose work he is checking, and the setup makes for a great twist on the normal investigative routines that are familiar from so many other crime novels. As the plot progresses and McCormack sees through the failings in the investigation to date, he begins to take control of the case. As you might expect, the truth ends up being far more complex than it at first appears.   

McCormack is an utterly believable and sympathetic hero. His struggles against the engrained flaws and prejudices in the Glasgow police force are more than just a plot device. I found myself really rooting for him and caring about him as a character as well as the agent through which the mystery would be solved. 

The surrounding characters are similarly convincing. McIlvanney manages to give them rich lives without getting bogged down in detail. There’s a big subplot about a safecracker which is almost as enjoyable as the main story, and which really helps to flesh out the city and the criminal gangs that run it. 60s Glasgow comes alive on the page and McIlvanny’s portrayal of the city is as accomplished as his writing of the human characters.  

That sense of place and time is key to the success of the book. It reminded me a lot of the excellent ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina, which is also set in Glasgow around the same time.  For me, ‘The Quaker’ isn’t quite as good as that book, but it’s still definitely worth your time. It’s thrilling, the unravelling of the mystery is wonderfully satisfying and McCormack is a brilliant protagonist. 

4/5

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