Review: The Papers of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney

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Canongate Books Ltd (2013) Kindle edition. ISBN: 978-0857869920. 320 pages.

From his deathbed in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, a drunken vagrant named Eck Adamson wants to see Inspector Jack Laidlaw. When Laidlaw arrives, Eck can barely utter a word. Before dying he manages to write: ‘The wine he gave me wisny wine’. Laidlaw is left with the impression that Eck could have been poisoned, what else could his last words mean?

Among Eck’s few personal belongings there is a piece of paper with some handwritten notes: an address in Pollokshields, the names Lynsey Farren and Paddy Collins, the word ‘The Crib’ and what seems to be a phone number. Laidlaw, realizing that Eck’s case is of no interest to anyone, decides to investigate on his own initiative. 

“You couldn’t say the meaning of things was elsewhere and Eck was irrelevant. That was a betrayal. All we have is one another and if we’re orphans all we can honourably do is adopt one another, defy the meaninglessness of our lives by mutual concern. It’s the only nobility we have.”

To get started, Laidlaw has to verify the address and the names, call the phone number until someone answers, get the results of the post-mortem and inform his sidekick Brian Harkness. Soon he finds out that the number pertains to a phone-box and that Paddy Collins is dead. Collins was stabbed that same night. Laidlaw, wonders, what can be the possible connection, between Eck and Paddy Collins?

Paddy Collins was Cam Colvin’s brother-in-law. Colvin wants to find Hook Hawkins. Together with Mickey Ballater and Panda Paterson he goes to The Crib, a pub that, despite its name, isn’t exactly suitable for children. Hawkins is not there and Colvin leaves message with Dave McMaster, Hawkins’ right-hand man, that he wants to meet him. Dave McMaster takes care, among other things, of four pubs for John Rhodes, including The Crib.

The following day John Rhodes wonders what are Cam Colvin intentions, and whether Hawkins has something to do with Collins’ death. He is also interested to find out what’s Mickey Ballater doing in Glasgow. Hawkins assures him he doesn’t know what it’s all about and that he is not involved in Collins’ murder. In fact, Colvin is looking for Hawkins to ask him to help find Tony Veitch. The only two clues that he has in connection with the murder of his brother-in-law, are The Crib and Tony Veitch.  

At the same time Laidlaw and Harkness have found the house in Pollokshields, one of  Glasgow’s most exclusive residential areas, it belongs to Milton Veitch. Mr. Veitch examines the note found in Eck’s pocket and recognizes his son Tony handwriting. However, for over a a week or more he has not seen his son and doesn’t know his whereabouts. In fact he has recently received a letter from his son and his handwriting is still fresh in his mind. In this letter Tony notifies him that he was leaving the University just before sitting his final exams. Moreover, both father and son know Lynsey Farren. ‘She’s Lord Farren of Farren’s daughter. Lady Lynsey Farren.’ The two families have known each other for years and are close friends. 

Laidlaw will have to figure out what may have in common the deaths of Eck Adamson and Paddy Collins with Tony Veitch’s disappearance.

The Papers of Tony Veitch was first published in 1983 by Hodder & Staughton and has been reissued this year by Cannongate. It was the winner of the 1983 CWA Silver Dagger Award and is the sequel to Laidlaw (my review is HERE). Strange Loyalties (1991), the third book in The Laidlaw Trilogy, was awarded the Glasgow Herald People’s Prize.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is purely academic. There’s good and bad literature and, in this sense, I believe that The Papers of Tony Veitch has more than enough literary merit. The story is character driven, rather than action driven, which may explain why this book has been, sometimes, labelled ‘literary crime fiction’.       

Besides, this is not an irrelevant book, only suitable to spend a good time, although there’s nothing wrong in that. In contrast, it’s a book that requires an active participation from the reader, a demanding reading, although highly rewarding. The reader must pay appropriate attention, otherwise one might eventually get lost. To be quite honest I must admit I have had to read it twice. My first reading was probably too quick to fully enjoy it. I don’t regret it at all. My second reading was well worth it. 

By the way, the story is told from the perspective of multiple characters and, therefore, doesn’t follow a strictly linear plot. Interestingly enough, Margot Kinberg yesterday wrote about this in her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… I think this book is a good example.

In my review of Laidlaw I did mention that it was certainly among the best books I’ve read this year. And, for me, The Papers of Tony Veitch is even better.

In some reviews, I read that contains extremely local expressions which may hinder the understanding of some readers. This has not bothered me in the slightest. I have certainly missed some minor details, but all in all it was an extremely gratifying reading. I look forward to the third book in this superb series. Stay tuned.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)    

Search inside this book

William McIlvanney: Laying Down The Law

William McIlvanney at Books from Scotland

Cannongate Books

Personal Dispatches by William MacIlvanney

William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Novels

Natural Loyalties: The Work of William McIlvanney

Scotland’s master of crime is also its Camus

The Crimes Literary Supplement: The Laidlaw Trilogy

William McIlvanney in Conversation with Doug Johnstone (You Tube Video)

Los papeles de Tony Veitch de William McIlvanney

Desde su lecho de muerte en el Hospital Real de Glasgow, un vagabundo borracho de nombre Eck Adamson quiere ver al Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Cuando Laidlaw llega, Eck apenas puede articular una palabra. Antes de morir consigue escribir: “El vino que me dio él no era vino”. Laidlaw se queda con la impresión de que Eck podría haber sido envenenado, ¿qué otra cosa podrían significar sus últimas palabras?

Entre las pocas pertenencias personales de Eck hay un pedazo de papel con notas manuscritas: una dirección en Pollokshields, los nombres de Lynsey Farren y Paddy Collins, la palabra “La Cuna” y lo que parece ser un número de teléfono. Laidlaw, dándose cuenta de que el caso de Eck no interesa a nadie, decide investigar por su propia iniciativa.

“Uno no podía decir que el significado de las cosas estaba en otra parte y que Eck no tenía importancia. Eso sería una traición. Todo lo que tenemos es colaboración y si somos huérfanos todo lo que podemos hacer horradamente es adoptarnos mutuamente, desafiando el sin sentido de nuestras vidas por interés recíproco. La única nobleza que tenemos”.

Para empezar, Laidlaw tiene que verificar la dirección y los nombres, llamar al número de teléfono hasta que alguien responda, obtener los resultados de la autopsia e informar a su compañero Brian Harkness. Pronto averigua que el número pertenece a una cabina telefónica y que Paddy Collins ha muerto. Collins fue apuñalado esa misma noche. Laidlaw, se pregunta, ¿cuál es la posible conexión que puede existir entre Eck y Paddy Collins?

Paddy Collins era el cuñado de Cam Colvin. Colvin quiere encontrar a Hook Hawkins. Junto con Mickey Ballater y Panda Paterson va a La Cuna, un pub que, a pesar de su nombre, no es precisamente apto para niños. Hawkins no está y Colvin deja mensaje con Dave McMaster, la mano derecha de Hawkins, de que quiere reunirse con él. Dave McMaster se encarga, entre otras cosas, de los cuatro pubs de John Rhodes, incluyendo La Cuna.

Al día siguiente, John Rhodes se pregunta qué pretende Cam Colvin, y si Hawkins ha tenido algo que ver con la muerte de Collins. También está interesado en saber lo que está haciendo Mickey Ballater en Glasgow. Hawkins le asegura que no sabe de qué se trata y que no está implicado en el asesinato de Collins. De hecho, Colvin está buscando a Hawkins para pedirle que le ayude a encontrar a Tony Veitch. Las dos únicas pistas que tiene en relación con el asesinato de su cuñado son La Cuna y Tony Veitch.

Al mismo tiempo Laidlaw y Harkness han encontrado la casa en Pollokshields, una de las zonas residenciales más exclusivas de Glasgow, pertenece a Milton Veitch. El Sr. Veitch examina la nota encontrada en el bolsillo de Eck y reconoce la escritura de su hijo Tony. Pero no ha visto a su hijo desde hace más de una semana y desconoce su paradero. De hecho, ha recibido recientemente una carta de su hijo y su letra está todavía fresca en su memoria. En esa carta Tony le comunica que deja la Universidad justo antes de realizar los exámenes finales. Por otra parte, tanto el padre como el hijo conocen a Lynsey Farren. ‘Se trata de la hija de Lord Farren de Farren, Lady Lynsey Farren.’ Las dos familias hace años que se conocen y son íntimas amigas.

Laidlaw tendrá que averiguar qué pueden tener en común la muerte de Eck Adamson y Paddy Collins con la desaparición de Tony Veitch.

Los papeles de Tony Veitch se publicó por primera vez en 1983 por Hodder & Staughton, y ha sido reeditado este año por Cannongate. Obtuvo el Premio CWA Silver Dagger de 1983 y es la continuación de Laidlaw (1977) (mi reseña está AQUÍ). Extrañas lealtades (1991), el tercero de la trilogía, fue galardonado con el Glasgow Herald People’s Prize.

Estoy cada vez más convencido de que la diferencia entre ficción literaria y ficción de género es puramente académica. Hay buena y mala literatura y, en este sentido, creo que Los papeles de Tony Veitch tiene un mérito literario más que suficiente. La historia está dirigida por los personajes, en lugar de estar dirigida por la acción, lo que puede explicar por qué este libro ha sido, a veces, etiquetado de “novela negra literaria“.

Además, este no es un libro intrascendente, sólo apto para pasar un buen rato, aunque no hay nada de malo en eso. Por el contrario, es un libro que requiere una participación activa del lector, una lectura exigente, aunque muy gratificante. El lector debe prestar la debida atención, de lo contrario uno eventualmente podría perderse. Para ser sincero, debo admitir que he tenido que leerlo dos veces . Mi primera lectura fue probablemente demasiado rápida para disfrutarlo plenamente. No lo lamento en absoluto. Mi segunda lectura ha merecido mucho la pena.

Por cierto, la historia está contada desde la perspectiva de múltiples personajes y, por tanto, no tiene una trama estrictamente lineal. Curiosamente, Margot Kinberg ayer escribió sobre esto en su excelente blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… Este libro creo que es un buen ejemplo de ello.

En mi reseña de Laidlaw hice mención de que era sin duda uno de los mejores libros que he leído este año. Pues bien, para mí, Los papeles de Tony Veitch es aún mejor.

En algunas reseñas, he leído que contiene expresiones muy locales que pueden obstaculizar la comprensión de algunos lectores. Esto no me ha molestado en lo más mínimo. Ciertamente, he podido perderme algunos detalles menores, pero en general, ha sido una lectura muy gratificante. Espero con interés el tercer libro de esta soberbia serie. Permanezcan sintonizados.

Mi calificación: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

13 thoughts on “Review: The Papers of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney”

  1. José Ignacio – Thank you for the kind mention. I’m glad you brought up the point of little real distinction there is between ‘literary’ fiction and ‘crime’ fiction. I can think of so many books that could easily be put into both categories. This sounds like another example. Excellent review as ever!

  2. Jose, I’ve only skimmed the review, as I want to leave some elements of the book unknown prior to my reading of it. A+ though is a good indicator of a treat ahead. I will make sure this is top of the heap when I embark on my Scottish challenge next year! Thanks for a great review – though I will study it more when I have read the book myself.

  3. This has been on my list since reading (and loving) Laidlaw earlier this year. I’m thrilled to see you think this one is even better – it will definitely move up my priority list. Thanks for a great review! 🙂

  4. I read this years ago, and remember almost nothing about it! Back then I thought it not as good as Laidlaw, but I might have a different opinion if I re-read them – you make this one sound very good.

  5. I think the question is less, what’s the difference between crime writing and literary writing, than it is, what’s the difference between William McIlvanney and most crime writers? I can assure you that if more crime writers wrote as well, and with as much sympathy and humor as McIlvanney does, fewer people would distingguish between crime writing and literary writing.

    Meanwhile, this post at my place suggests – accurately — that in addition to being one of our finest writers of what we call crime fiction, McIlvanney is a pretty nice guy.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

    1. You’re probably right Peter, thanks for the link to your blog post. I probably missed that one, although I do check your blog regularly. And thanks for your visit,

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