HE was known as the Godfather of Tartan Noir and inspired a generation of Scotland’s most famous crime writers.

Now an unfinished novel by William McIlvanney has been finished in a “top-secret” project during lockdown by bestselling novelist Ian Rankin – one of the authors who followed in his footsteps.

A handwritten manuscript intended to be a prequel to McIlvanney’s acclaimed Glasgow-based novels featuring detective Jack Laidlaw, was left unfinished after the author’s death in 2015.

Publisher Canongate has announced The Dark Remains, co-authored by Rankin, will now be published on 2 September 2021.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Rankin said he had approached the project with “great trepidation”.

He said: “His publisher Canongate approached me during the pandemic, just as I was finishing my new book and said look, we have got all these notes that William McIlvanney left and his widow has given them to us.

“There is the seeds of a book in there – can you go through it and see if you think something can be done?

“So there was over 100 pages of material and I went through it and I thought yes I can see it, I can see the threads, I can see bits and pieces of plot, I can see the character.”

Rankin said he was excited that it was a Laidlaw book – saying while the character had only appeared in three books he was a “huge influence” on many crime writers.

Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Mark Billingham and Denise Mina are among the authors who have cited McIlvanney as a major inspiration on their work.

Rankin added: “So I got very excited, but it was a huge responsibility, I needed to know can I capture Willie’s voice, it had to be an act of ventriloquism, I wanted it to be his book not my book.

“The greatest compliment I have been paid is by my wife, who when she read it said ‘I can’t see the join – I can’t see where it stops being William McIlvanney and starts being you’ – so that was a relief.”

The Laidlaw trilogy was first published between 1977 and 1991, but subsequently fell out of print.

In 2013, Canongate republished the novels and said this appeared to have inspired McIlvanney to write a new story about the detective’s first case.

When McIlvanney first met Rankin in 1985 and heard he was writing his first Rebus book, he inscribed a copy of his novel with the message - “Good luck with the Edinburgh Laidlaw”.

The announcement of the new novel was made on the fifth anniversary of McIlvanney’s death, at the age of 79.

Siobhan Lynch, partner of McIlvanney, said: “I feel overjoyed to be able to share Willie’s last words with his beloved readers and introduce Laidlaw to a new generation. Ian is the writer Willie would have chosen.”

McIlvanney was born in Kilmarnock and spent two decades as a teacher at an Ayrshire high school before pursuing writing