Source: Review copy
Publication: 25th March 2021 from Black Thorn Books
My thanks to the publisher and Random Things Tours for an early copy for review
NO ONE WILL FORGET . . .
In a grimy flat in Glasgow, a homemade bomb explodes, leaving few remains to identify its maker.
Detective Harry McCoy knows in his gut that there’ll be more to follow. The hunt for a missing sailor from the local US naval base leads him to the secretive group behind the bomb, and their disturbing, dominating leader.
On top of that, McCoy thinks he’s doing an old friend a favour when he passes on a warning, but instead he’s pulled into a vicious gang feud. And in the meantime, there’s word another bigger explosion is coming Glasgow’s way – so if the city is to survive, it’ll take everything McCoy’s got . . .
April is the cruellest month and that’s pretty much how Harry McCoy is finding it. Newly diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and advised to give up smoking, drinking and fried foods, McCoy isn’t in the best of tempers to begin with. It’s 1974 and a bomb has gone off in a tenement flat. It looks like it’s gone off by mistake, killing its maker, but who was building the bomb and why?
Though this investigation will touch on what’s been happening in Northern Ireland, Scotland has been mercifully spared much of the terror of the Irish bombing campaigns and not even Special Branch thinks this one is worth adding to their caseload. Still, it’s very worrying and McCoy needs to find out what’s behind it.
McCoy meets an American, Alan Stewart, who is desperately looking for his missing son, Danny, gone AWOL from the US naval base at the Holy Loch. Stewart himself is an ex-Navy Captain and McCoy takes him on a trip to Aberdeen to help keep him company and to hear more about the missing lad.
McCoy has gone to pick up his childhood friend, gangland boss Stevie Cooper, newly released from Peterhead Prison after a six month stretch. Stewart and Cooper hit it off over a mutual love of boxing, Cooper’s newest money laundering exercise, but even so, McCoy can tell that not everything is well with his old friend from their children’s home days.
Nothing stays static and there are those who sought to take over Cooper’s territory while he was inside. Now Stevie wants to root out the corrupt and re-establish his prominence. This is a game where weakness destroys and he can’t afford to give any quarter.
There are myriad reasons to love Alan Parks writing and Harry McCoy. His attention to detail beautifully evokes 1970’s Glasgow from the glorious dingy pubs to the boxing and the young lads on street corners freezing in their wee bomber jackets and flapping wide trousers, looking for trouble. It doesn’t matter who you are in this city; it’s where you came from and who you grew up with that counts.
Down these mean streets McCoy must travel and as he goes he straddles the very fine line between being a decent cop and a corrupt cop at one and the same time. It is this pushing of the boundaries that makes McCoy so interesting and yet there isn’t really any moral ambiguity; when push comes to shove, you know you want McCoy on your side.
Parkes is slowly revealing more about what bonds Cooper and McCoy together. Some bonds are so well forged they are nigh on impossible to break, yet these two come close to extreme violence on occasion as things get sticky.
This time Wattie, McCoy’s sidekick and now a brand new dad is struggling to make his mark on a case of his own. Closely watched by Chief Inspector Murray, Wattie has to solve the murder of gangland boss Jamesie Dixon but the word on the street is clear: this one was down to Stevie Cooper. It’s a poisoned chalice, and sleep-deprived Wattie is way out of his depth.
As another bomb goes off – this time at the Cathedral – Harry has to find who is responsible and what is driving them. His travels will take him to a hippy commune headed up by a famous actress and thence to a country house where the heart of the British establishment is laid bare in the guest book for all to admire.
In his darkest and most gritty narrative yet, Parks gives us a murdering psychopath targeting pubs; a mind-set driven – or at least fuelled – by terrible atrocities. This is fascinating because what we see are the repercussions – here in Glasgow and in the Irish bombings – of a hundred years and more of British Imperialism coming home to roost. The crime wave sweeping McCoy’s Glasgow streets is more than just home grown poverty striking back; it is the result of years of deliberate and planned invasion and suppression of peoples without a backward glance and all in the name of the British Empire.
Little wonder that nationalism is on the rise in places where Britain once ruled the roost. We reap what we sow, it seems. This is a much bigger canvas than Parks has previously offered and his revelations about McCoy and Cooper’s experiences as children is just one part of that.
Verdict: This is noir at its bleakest. Hard edged, gritty and uncompromising, this is Parks’ best yet. It’s thought provoking in all the right ways without being grandiose and his setting and characters gleam with authenticity. Parks does that really clever thing of being absolutely riveting, hard and forensic with the violence that’s riddled throughout this book and yet somehow, without ever playing on it, he catches your emotions, too. Put simply, this series is unmissable
Alan Parks has worked in the music industry for over twenty years. His debut novel Bloody January was shortlisted for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. He lives and works in Glasgow. The April Dead is the fourth Harry McCoy thriller