Bloody Scotland: 2022 McIlvanney Prize Finalist Blog Tour – Extract from Liam McIlvanney’s The Heretic

Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize blog tour with an extract from The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney, one of the four books shortlisted for the award this year.

Those who follow this blog will know that Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, is one of my favourite bookish events of the year. I’m a big fan of crime fiction so it’s a great opportunity to see lots of my favourite authors and it’s always a really relaxed and fun atmosphere. This year is Bloody Scotland’s 10th Anniversary so it should be extra special with events over four days from the 15th to the 18th September and, if you can’t make it to Stirling (or like me haven’t figured out how to attend multiple panels at the same time), almost everything is available to watch online with a digital pass. Details of all events and tickets can be found on the website – here

One of the first events as always is the award of the McIlvanney prize which recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing. This year’s finalists are

  • Liam McIlvanney – The Heretic (HarperCollins)
  • Alan Parks – May God Forgive (Canongate)
  • Ambrose Parry – A Corruption of Blood (Canongate)
  • Louise Welsh – The Second Cut (Canongate)

Today I’m fortunate to be able to share an extract from The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney. This is the sequel to The Quaker which won the McIlvanney prize way back in 2018. I read this book almost a year ago and loved it. It’s dark and gritty Scottish Noir at its finest, with a complex plot and brilliant writing which brings both the characters and the setting to life.

The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney


Glasgow 1975

A deadly fire
An arson attack on a Glasgow warehouse causes the deaths of a young mother and child. Police suspect it’s the latest act in a brutal gang warfare that’s tearing the city apart – one that DI Duncan McCormack has been tasked with stopping.

A brutal murder
Five years ago he was walking on water as the cop who tracked down a notorious serial killer. But he made powerful enemies and when a mutilated body is found in a Tradeston slum, McCormack is assigned a case that no one wants. The dead man is wearing a masonic ring, though, and Duncan realizes the victim is not the down-and-out his boss had first assumed.

A catastrophic explosion
As McCormack looks into both crimes, the investigations are disrupted by a shocking event. A bomb rips through a pub packed with people – and a cop is killed in the blast. The cases are stacking up and with one of his own unit now dead, McCormack is in the firing line.

But he’s starting to see a thread – one that connects all three attacks…


Duncan McCormack was running. Like a man possessed, like a man with the Furies at his heels. Up Hyndland Road past the parish church, then down Novar Drive with the big chimney of Gartnavel Hospital rearing up over the tenements.

Left down Lauderdale Gardens with his breath pegging in ragged gasps, his knees jolting. Past the bowling club with its perfect square of turf, its green-and-white timbered pavilion, and round into Queensborough Gardens before cutting sharp left down a lane between tenement blocks. He never entered this lane without thinking of that other lane, the one in Battlefield where they found the Quaker’s first victim.

Bursting out onto Clarence Drive he heard, too late, the mosquito drone of an electric milk float that braked to miss him – chink and rattle of bottles and crates, muffled curse of the driver – and McCormack raised his hand in apology before sprinting off past Hyndland Academy, looping round a leafy crescent of villas and back onto Partickhill Road.

He stopped at the junction with Gardner Street and checked his watch. Twenty-seven minutes and twenty seconds. He had shaved nearly a minute off his time in the past two weeks.

He planted his hands on his knees and bent over, sucking lungfuls of air, feeling the blood pool in his face and head, sweat spotting the pavement. Finally he straightened up and took it in.

The view.

The best view in the city, the view that made the run worth­while. The sandstone canyon of Gardner Street dropped away like a ski-jump. The city’s steepest street. Down at the foot of the hill was the early traffic on Dumbarton Road. If you raised your eyes you could see the river and the cranes and the green hills of Ayrshire down to the south.

The South.

If you kept going, down past the Borders and Yorkshire and the English Midlands and Oxfordshire, you would reach the grey spreading stain of London. And Peckham. And the little brick house with the wooden gate on Marsden Road. And the stone-flagged path to the green front door with the cracked pane of stained glass and maybe a head bobbing into view behind the glass, a head with curly brown hair above green eyes, eyes that crinkled at the corners when the mouth creased in a smile.

Fuck it. Stop. He turned away from the view. Lifted the hem of his T-shirt and wiped his face with it, the breeze chilling his sweat-slick ribs. He set off down Gardner Street, turned left onto Caird Drive. There was no point thinking about that. Brown hair. Green eyes. No point thinking about what you’d lost. Think about what you still had to find. What you’d come back to find. The job was to find Walter Maitland. This was how he thought of it. Not nailing Maitland or catching Maitland. Finding Maitland.

In one sense, finding Walter Maitland was easy. He lived in a big house in Bearsden. You could march up his driveway and knock on his door. But finding Walter Maitland in his crimes? That was the challenge. McCormack thought of all the malfeasance in the city – drugs, protection, gambling, girls – stretching in all directions like a dark labyrinth. And the beast who prowled it, the Glasgow Minotaur, was Walter Stuart Maitland. McCormack had been stalking its corridors for months, turning down its dog-legs and dead ends, doubling back on himself. No nearer, it seemed, to the beast at its heart.

He was climbing the short flight of steps to number 43 when a car door opened.


McCormack whipped round. ‘DC Nicol?’ He made a show of scanning the street. ‘People will talk. Parked outside the boss’s flat at seven in the morning?’

She smiled tightly, looked at her watch. ‘Twenty past, sir.’

‘What’s the word, then, Detective? What’s happened?’

She was standing beside the car now. ‘A murder, sir. Down Crawford Street. A man. Haddow’s assigned it to us. You were on the way, so I thought I’d stop.’

‘OK. Look, come up to the flat, have a quick cup of tea. I’ll get changed.’

Nicol checked her watch. McCormack rested his hands on his hips. ‘He’ll still be dead in fifteen minutes, Nicol. Come on.’

She locked the car. He led the way up the stairs, conscious now of his sweat, his laboured breathing, shaking loose his bunch of keys.

‘Sorry, it’s right at the top.’

‘It always is, sir.’ McCormack nodded. It was true. ‘Every call-out. Fourth bloody floor. Why does nothing happen at ground level in this city? It’s as if crime rises, like the bloody heat.’

About the Author

Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. He has written for numerous publications, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian. His debut, Burns the Radical, won the Saltire First Book Award. His second novel, Where the Dead Men Go, won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best New Zealand Crime Novel. His novel, The Quaker, won the 2018 McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year. He is Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and four sons

The tour continues…