The Heretic – Liam McIlvanney (Harper Collins 2022)

It feels a long time since 2018’s “The Quaker” which won this author the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Novel, an award named after his late father, William.

The action here has moved on, same Glasgow location but six years forward to 1975.  Main character Duncan McCormack has spent the years between working in London and returns to Scotland to head up the Serious Crime Squad.  One of his team, Goldie, has suffered repercussions from McCormack’s handling of the case that brought down The Quaker, another, Shand is in the pocket of the Detective Constable’s Superior and the third member, Liz Nicol, has been moved across from the recently disbanded women’s section to work with the men.  McCormack, himself, is secretly gay in a force where his homosexuality would not be tolerated and has abandoned a promising relationship in London, putting his work before his personal life.  All of this team are outsiders which brings interesting dynamics into play.

This is quite a lengthy crime novel coming in at over 500 pages and the case hinges around two warring gangs, the Catholic Quinns and those led by the Protestant Walter Maitland, who, in the time McCormack has been down South has established a strong grip on Glasgow’s Crime World.  A house fire looks set to start up tit for tat reprisals and a body turns up amongst the rubbish heaps caused by the refuse collectors’ strikes.

Time-wise, we’ve moved into “The Sweeney” territory, with little tolerance of anyone not a white heterosexual male but I’m not sure this bigotry and misogyny comes across quite as potently as it did in “The Quaker”.

The plot is always involving, taking ambitious turns and McIlvanney had me with him all the way.  I’m not sure whether this is a series which will continue and if so whether the author is happy to stay in this time period or envisages another jump with the next book.  I don’t think I was quite as enthralled as I was with its predecessor yet this is quality crime writing.

 The Heretic is published on January 20th 2022 by Harper Collins.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

2 thoughts on “The Heretic – Liam McIlvanney (Harper Collins 2022)


    happy new year Phil and your partner.It sounds fascinating read. I was a lover of Taggert series back 25 yrs afg in Slovakia and later of Reb us played by Ken Sttot.sometimes got muddled in his plot.Ian Rankin can be commented in Prologue on a penultimate book of Philip Kerr, co-written it and I must stress I didn’tluike it, too diluted for me. So you see late Mr Kerr spoilt me with his Guenter series, cldn’t have put it down. This cooperation killed for me Prusdsian Blue it is called and I cldnt put it down faster enough.

    This another Scot sound inriguing.EWither it is YOUR OWN CLEAR sum up.Put it this way you just sold it to me.He will defo feature on my reading list. although I normally read ww2 and Pilip Kerr, running out as he passed on and ACTIVELLY looking for mr Kerr’sa replacement. YOU DID IT.


    1. Great to hear from you Monika. Glad you like the sound of “The Heretic”. I would probably start with “The Quaker” the first in the series although this does work well as a stand-alone because of the jump forward in time to the mid 1970s.


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