Wednesday, 13 May 2009

All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney

A little while ago I had the good fortune of reading a marvellous new novel in manuscript, and I see that it's now forthcoming from Faber in a paperback original this August. It's the debut of a young writer called Liam McIlvanney, and it's entitled All The Colours of the Town.
Its protagonist is a grafting Glasgow-based political journalist called Gerry Conway who covers the waterfront of the Scottish Parliament, and is always quids-in for a good tip-off from a fictional Holyrood Justice Minister by the name of Peter Lyons. The complications and the drama really get going when Conway realises there's a big story submerged in Lyons' own unsavoury past, the hunting down of which will require him to get on a plane across the Irish Sea to Belfast (an unlovely and yet highly evocative journey, with which I'm highly familiar.) And in Belfast, that city under a black mountain, all the dirty secrets are there for Conway to dislodge with the toe of his boot.
To my eye, McIlvanney holds all the aces of a really vital young novelist: he tells a story with a sure hand, his recording eye is vividly precise, and he has his boots planted firmly in the moral mire of real life. All The Colours... offers the reader not only all the pleasures of a page-turner with compelling crime elements; but also a brilliant study in the harsh, pawky affinity between those two majestic cities, Glasgow and Belfast. Leading us to and fro across the Irish Sea on the trail of political/paramilitary skulduggery, McIlvanney manages both to keep us in his grip and to capture exactly what he calls the ‘fearsome Prod foursquareness’ of Ulster-Scots manners and mindsets. In short, and on the strength of all the elements sketched above, this is a book I'd very much like to hear the great Tom Paulin talk about on the Newsnight review show, to which Tom now seems to have returned after a much-lamented hiatus...

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