The papers of Tony Veitch (Laidlaw #2) by William McIlvanney

23 May 2021 | ,

Reading dates: 22 April – 22 May 2021

The Papers of Tony Veitch follows on from the first novel in the trilogy and although the case is distinct and different, so many of the stories are followed from the first one, it is worth starting at the beginning for the sake of context. I liked this one less.

Laidlaw is still a very interesting detective, with a unique gut instinct but I did not like the case. I felt there were too many narratives, too many enmeshed ideas and no one got to develop fully in the pages. When the revelation about the murdered came about, it was uninspiring and uninteresting because we had only seen this person a couple of times.

My favourite thing in the novel was Laidlaw’s feelings, about one of the victims and also about Glasgow, a city which seen through Laidlaw’s eyes, is so precise and fascinating. It is in real life too, but the character articulates this place very well.

I will read the third one, for sure, but after a little detour to finish Shetland.

Laidlaw’s wisdom

He had tried to tell a funny story and it came out roughly like someone describing a golf-ball hollow by hollow.

Harkness reflected that in Glasgow openness is the only safe-conduct pass. Try to steal a march and they’ll ambush you from every close. They hate to be had. Come on honestly and their tolerance can be great.

For his father it was better to batter one aggressor into the ground than try to help all the non-aggressors like himself. It was a strange philosophy, but not uncommon where Gus lived.

‘At least it makes a change from the spurious passion of Lawrence. You can’t read his poetry without feeling drenched in saliva.’
‘Jesus,’ Harkness said quietly.
‘If we’re dropping names, that’s a good one,’ Laidlaw said.


 ‘A lot of what passes for intellectuality’s just polysyllabic prejudice,’

Every half-boiled idea that touched him, he came down with it. He had no resistance. Because reality wasn’t where he lived. It was where he was trying to go. I mean, he’s very bright. But his brightness has no antibodies.


Anderston wasn’t a place where he would have expected to find it. It’s an area of the city that memorialises a part of Glasgow’s confused quarrel with itself, a warm and vivid slum expensively transformed into a cold and featureless one.

No death is irrelevant. It’s part of the pain of all of us, even if we don’t notice.

small things, lets us absorb its enormity through trivial negatives, like infinity measured in inches. Maybe that was why some people were casual about it.


The corpse compelled Laidlaw by its inaccessible nature, the way figures talking behind glass can fascinate because they are unheard. He learned that incomprehensible image like a rune he must try to decipher.

He had been insisting on making the food. Fortunately, she had dissuaded him. As a cook he belonged in the same league as the Borgias.

She had felt the desperation in the lightness of his touch but had known he wouldn’t come to her fully until he was sure he wasn’t abusing her. He was determined to come as a gift, not an act of theft.


Rectitude is a sanctimonious bastard, Laidlaw thought. It would unravel the jumpers from its shivering children’s backs to knit gloves for public charity.


 The end of his nose was limbo. If he travelled beyond it he’d fall off the edge of the world. Laidlaw thought, not for the first time, that there must be those who, if a dying man told them the secret of all life and swore at them at the same time, would only remember that he swore.


Laidlaw felt the bleakness of summer on his face and understood a small truth. Even the climate here offered no favours. Standing at a bus-stop, you talked out the side of your mouth, in case your lips got chapped.

That was Glasgow. It was a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground. And what circumstances kept giving it was cruelty. No wonder he loved it. It danced among its own debris. When Glasgow gave up, the world could call it a day.


Laidlaw had a happy image of the first man out after the nuclear holocaust being a Glaswegian. He would straighten up and look around. He would dust himself down with that flicking gesture of the hands and, once he had got the strontium off the good suit, he would look up. The palms would be open.
‘Hey,’ he would say. ‘Gonny gi’es a wee brek here? What was that about? Ye fell oot wi’ us or what? That was a liberty. Just you behave.’
Then he would walk off with that Glaswegian walk, in which the shoulders don’t move separately but the whole torso is carried as one, as stiff as a shield. And he would be muttering to himself, ‘Must be a coupla bottles of something still intact.


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