Glasgow of the mid-1970s is a grim, grimy, violent, depressed place, where the skies are always grey and rain is forever falling, and where the murdered corpse of a homeless drunk tossed away with the rubbish is just part of the landscape.

Glasgow of the mid-1970s is a grim, grimy, violent, depressed place, where the skies are always grey and rain is forever falling, and where the murdered corpse of a homeless drunk tossed away with the rubbish is just part of the landscape.

Until, of course, the dead man turns out to be a leading member of the political and business class, distinctly posh, who’s been slaughtered after being tortured and starved for days on end.

<p>The Heretic</p>

The Heretic

Such events generally are guaranteed to get good murder mysteries off to a rousing start, and indeed, Liam McIlvanney’s The Heretic is darned good, albeit really, really heavy.

Our lead copper is more troubled than most. He’s D.I. Duncan McCormack, just back for unexplained reasons after seven years in London, almost universally despised by most older polis in Glasgow for having brought down a vicious serial killer seven years before in a case that also toppled a corrupt senior police officer with a lot of friends who owed him big time.

That was told in author McIlvanney’s previous novel, The Quaker.

McCormack’s boss openly hates him and has vowed to do whatever it takes to have McCormack fired — or worse.

Our Duncan heads a small but powerful investigative unit with only a handful of officers loyal to him — though, as regular police procedural fans will expect, at least one may be a traitor reporting back directly to McCormack’s enemies.

Did we mention McCormack is also in the closet, as it were, at a time that was best kept to himself?

When the murder gets dumped in McCormack’s lap, his squad’s been sleuthing futilely to try to put away Glasgow’s most dangerous gang lord Walter Maitland, while trouble brews with ambitious mobsters trying to dethrone the don.

Gangsters in Scottish police procedurals are always super nasty, barely literate thugs who’ve literally fought their way up from the slums, and rule by terror and bloodshed. Think Big Ger Cafferty in Ian Rankin’s magnificent Rebus police mysteries, only with even less sophistication.

Toss in the possibility of the IRA’s having wandered over the water, and of innocent impoverished people having burned to death in a run-down apartment building that was collateral damage when a gang’s warehouse got torched, and McCormack has a busy time of it.

Gosh, there’s no way all these things could possibly be connec… no, wait, don’t get ahead of us here.

McCormack is no knight in shining armour — he can beat information out of a slimy suspect as well as the next dinosaur bobby, and ferrets out whatever secrets by whatever means that can loosen tongues.

The Heretic has powerful social messages about what poverty and inequity do to people, and especially to women and girls living without any hope in a society that serves them up to rich and powerful men, to be discarded when they’re done.

It’s quite the gripping tale that McIlvanney has put together. Aye, dark, and bloody, and not a lot of good happens to people, but superbly told.

Retired Free Press reporter Nick Martin loved the scenes set in Kelvingrove Museum, envisioning the enormous John Knox highlands masterpieces. OK, yeah, right, so descriptions of pints in dodgy pubs caught his attention too.

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