William McIlvanney

William McIlvanney, the ‘godfather of Tartan Noir’, was born in the town of Kilmarnock, the son of a former miner. He studied at Kilmarnock Academy and later at the University of Glasgow, after which he worked as an English teacher.

Acclaimed for the mixture of poeticism and grit in their portrayals of working-class Glasgow, Willie’s (as his friends called him) novels remain some of contemporary Scottish literature’s best-loved books. His first novel, Remedy is None, was published in 1966 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; his second, A Gift from Nessus, took a Scottish Arts Council publication award. The semi-autobiographical Docherty was awarded the Whitbread Novel Award in 1975 and its sequel, The Kiln (1996) won the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year. The Big Man, brought out in 1985, was turned into the 1990 film of the same name starring Liam Neeson and Billy Connolly. Willie was also an acclaimed poet and the author of The Longships in Harbour: Poems (1970) and Surviving the Shipwreck (1991), a book which also contained pieces of journalism, including an essay about T. S. Eliot. His short story ‘Dreaming’ (1989) was filmed by BBC Scotland in 1990 and won a BAFTA. Much of his work has been recently re-published by Canongate.

Yet Willie was possibly best known for the creation of Inspector Jack Laidlaw, the unconventional Glasgow detective who describes his favourite tipple as ‘low-grade hemlock’ and keeps his Camus and Kierkegaard locked in his desk drawer. His Laidlaw trilogy has inspired the next generation of crime writers in Scotland.

Willie’s website:

William McIlvanney’s estate is represented at Jenny Brown Associates by Jenny. For all enquiries contact

Books by William

The Dark Remains

by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin Canongate, September 2021 William McIlvanney changed the face of crime fiction when he created DI Laidlaw, the original brooding Glasgow cop. He wrote three Laidlaw books and, as recently discovered, left one handwritten manuscript tantalisingly unfinished when he passed away in December 2015. In the early 1980s one young fan, Ian Rankin, took Laidlaw as inspiration for his own detective, John Rebus. Now, Rankin is back to finish what McIlvanney started. The Dark Remains, the story of Laidlaw’s first case, is written by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. –Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller The personality of the tough, intelligent Laidlaw leaps off the page as readily as it did in the first novel that bore his name. –Financial Times You cannot see the join where Rankin takes over the reins… the journey through 1970s Glasgow, its grotty tenements and genteel suburbs, makes for a gripping and atmospheric novel that should deservedly boost the readership of McIlvanney and Rankin. –The Times, Book of the Week

Remedy is None

Canongate, January 2014

Charlie Grant, an intense young student at Glasgow University watches his father die. Overwhelmed by the memory of this humble yet dignified death, Charlie is left to face his own fierce resentment for his adulterous mother.

Praise for Remedy is None

The finest Scottish novelist of our time


Winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

William McIlvanney paints a world of harsh reality, but does so in language that is strangely beautiful and hauntingly poetic
Craig Russell


A Gift from Nessus

Canongate, January 2014

Eddie Cameron is a salesman for Rocklight Ltd., an electrical equipment firm in Glasgow, where he has been fiddling the firm’s expenses. Eddie’s life is in tatters – his wife hates him, and his violent temper has left his mistress teetering on the edge of sanity.

Praise for A Gift from Nessus

There is a sense of moral growth in A Gift from Nessus that lifts it out of the ordinary . . . almost frighteningly truthful and moving

The Times

McIlvanney is a compassionate writer and leaves an impression both of high seriousness and great charm

Sunday Telegraph



Canongate, November 2013

Tam Docherty’s youngest son, Conn, is born at the end of 1903 in a small working-class town in the west of Scotland. Tam will stop at nothing to make sure that life and the pits don’t swallow up his boy, the way it did him. Courageous and questioning, Docherty emerges as a leader of almost unshakable strength, but in a close-knit community tradition is a powerful opponent.

Praise for Doherty

Here a human history is mined with humour and a clenching sense of its sombre inequities: man’s squat but lengthening shadow in the sun

The Guardian

He has a hard muscular quality to his writing. Some of his phrases hammer against you like a collier’s pick The Times

An intense, witty and beautifully wrought novel

Daily Telegraph

Winner of the Whitbread Prize 1975


The Kiln

Canongate, January 2014

Tom Docherty was seventeen in the summer of 1955. With school behind him and a summer job at a brick works, Tom had his whole life before him. Years later, alone in a rented flat in Edinburgh and lost in memories, Tom recalls the intellectual and sexual awakening of his youth. In looking back, Tom discovers that only by understanding where he comes from can he make sense of his life as it is now.

Praise for The Kiln

A pitch-perfect blend of warm lyricism, limpid observation and excruciatingly funny comedy. It is a beguilingly brilliant portrait of the artist as an adolescent

Sunday Times

On almost every page it offers matter for reflection and the sudden stab of emotion that comes from reading something that is truly evoked or created . . . It is rare and it is wonderful


McIlvanney plumbs, in language of luminous precision, the tortured psyche of the Scottish character. It’s Greek tragedy, hilarious to boot

Mail on Sunday

The best novel yet from the finest Scottish writer of our time

Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year)

Winner of the Saltire Society Book of the Year Prize



Canongate, May 2013

Meet Jack Laidlaw, the original damaged detective. When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Kelvingrove Park, only Laidlaw stands a chance of finding her murderer from among the hard men, gangland villains and self-made moneymen who lurk in the city’s shadows.

Praise for Laidlaw


Val McDermid

Fastest, first and best, Laidlaw is the melancholy heir to Marlowe. Reads like a breathless scalpel cut through the bloody heart of a city

Denise Mina

A crime trilogy so searing it will burn forever into your memory. McIlvanney is the original Scottish criminal mastermind

Christopher Brookmyre

It’s doubtful I would be a crime writer without the influence of McIlvanney’s Laidlaw. Here was a literary novelist turning his hand to the urban, contemporary crime novel and proving that the form could tackle big moral concerns and social issues

Ian Rankin

Laidlaw is a fascinating, infuriating and memorable character . . . McIlvanney probes the nature of society and the limitations of human guilt with razor sharpness


The best new character in crime fiction for years

Daily Express
A classic of the genre – a maelstrom of gangland violence, brutal sentimentality and sectarianism told in richly Gothic prose. If you only read one crime novel this year, this should be it – but you’ll undoubtedly want to read the other two books in the trilogy, which will be reissued in a couple of months’ time


Winner of the Crime Writing Association Silver Dagger


The Papers of Tony Veitch

Canongate, June 2013

Eck Adamson, an alcoholic vagrant, summons Jack Laidlaw to his deathbed. Probably the only policeman in Glasgow who would bother to respond, Laidlaw sees in Eck’s cryptic last message a clue to the murder of a gangland thug and the disappearance of a student. With stubborn integrity, Laidlaw tracks a seam of corruption that runs from the top to the bottom of society.

Praise for The Papers of Tony Veitch

Brilliant . . . grips like a mangling handshake

Sunday Times

The good news is that Laidlaw is back


Fiercely evocative and witty with it . . . McIlvanney renders absurd the traditional distinctions between novelists and writers of detective fiction

Literary Review

Enthralling . . . An unsual, unique rendition of a city and a society



Strange Loyalties

Canongate, June 2013

When his brother dies stepping out in front of a car, Detective Jack Laidlaw is determined to find out what really happened. With corrosive wit, Laidlaw relates an emotional quest through Glasgow’s underworld, and into the past. He discovers as much about himself as the loved brother he has lost, in a search which leads to a shattering climax.

Praise for Strange Loyalties

Sunday Times

Starts on the streets and ends up in the soul
Daily Telegraph

Told superlatively well. Laidlaw has . . . become even more heroically moving
The Times

In a class of his own