Four books have been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year in Bloody Scotland’s 10th Anniversary year. They 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)
I have read all four of these books and each has gained a well-deserved place on this year’s shortlist, sponsored by The Glencairn Glass. The winner will be announced at an event on Thursday 15 September 2022. All of the shortlisted authors will be invited to a VIP reception at the Church of the Holy Rude at 7pm and to lead the torchlit procession from Stirling Castle to The Albert Halls where the winner of both the McIlvanney and the Bloody Scotland Debut Prizes will be revealed at approximately 8.30pm. They will then be interviewed on stage by BBC Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth.
I am absolutely delighted to be highlighting one of this year’s four shortlisted books in line for the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize. Alan Park’s May God Forgive is an outstanding contribution to the Scottish crime canon and is, in my view, the outstanding book of this series so far.
If you haven’t read the series, I’d urge you to do so from the beginning. Park’s protagonist Harry McCoy is a flawed, complex character and through him Parks asks some very difficult moral and ethical questions. His depiction of 1970’s Glasgow and the divide between the wealthy and the poverty stricken is acutely drawn and his crimes are often hard to stomach.
May God Forgive is a very worthy shortlisting for this years McIlvanney Prize and I commend it to you. Here is the publisher’s description followed by my full review.
Glasgow is a city in mourning. An arson attack on a hairdresser’s has left five dead. Tempers are frayed and sentiments running high.
When three youths are charged the city goes wild. A crowd gathers outside the courthouse but as the police drive the young men to prison, the van is rammed by a truck, and the men are grabbed and bundled into a car. The next day, the body of one of them is dumped in the city centre. A note has been sent to the newspaper: one down, two to go.
Detective Harry McCoy has twenty-four hours to find the kidnapped boys before they all turn up dead, and it is going to mean taking down some of Glasgow’s most powerful people to do it . . .
MAY GOD FORGIVE follows Detective Harry McCoy, just released from hospital after treatment for a bleeding ulcer and living on a diet of Pepto-Bismol and cigarettes alternately washed down with alcohol and milk.
A hairdressing salon in an insalubrious part of Glasgow has been fire-bombed, killing three women and two children. The City is up in arms. Three boys are charged with the crime and then as they are being transported to the prison, their armoured van is hi-jacked and the boys abducted. One turns up dead the following day with a note pinned to his chest which says ‘One down – two to go’. McCoy’s boss, Chief Inspector Murray is under the cosh. Now responsible for running two police stations, he has little confidence in the police in his new station in Tobago Street.
He sees that the abduction and murder of one of these boys is no more than vigilantism and he is not prepared to stand for it, no matter how many coppers and members of the public think it’s only fair justice. Now McCoy has twenty-four hours to find the other two boys before they suffer the same fate.
This is not a walk in the park for the police force. It’s not clear who sprung the escape plan or why but McCoy fears that there are no good intentions behind this escape. Not fully recovered, though he protests the contrary, McCoy is put on behind the scenes enquiries, doing what he does best, making use of his contacts and ferreting out what small nuggets of information he can. He’s also keeping an eye on Wattie’s case – the murder of an unidentified young woman whose body was found strangled and dumped at Sighthill Cemetery.
Harry has always walked a fine line between the law makers and the law breakers in Glasgow and now it seems that some of the latter are trying to redeem themselves through good works.
As McCoy picks his way through his network of criminal contacts his enquiries lead him to the turf war going on between Jimmy Smart and Dessie Kane. Smart is building up quite a business empire and Dessie Kane is pinning his immortality and rise to respectability on his charitable links with the church and especially the next Archbishop of Glasgow to whom he is close.
Of course Harry also calls in on gangland boss Stevie Cooper, whose son Paul has gone missing. Somehow all these threads, floating in the wind, can be pulled together and made into something that resembles a pattern; if only McCoy can work out what that pattern should look like.
Never one with a strong stomach at the best of times, this is McCoy at his most vulnerable. And when a man is down, that’s the best time to kick him. Alan Parks makes the most of McCoy’s vulnerability to expose more of his past and to allow us to understand just how McCoy came to be the damaged adult that he is. It’s a difficult, poignant and heart-aching story and Harry McCoy’s vulnerability is laid bare as we understand more of what has happened to him.
Through his dredging of the depths of his contacts, he finds himself up to his neck in seedy squalor. How the apparent suicide of ‘Dirty Ally’ porn mag purveyor is connected to the disappearance of Paul Cooper and the fire-bombing of a hairdressing salon isn’t very obvious, but connected they are.
Parks does a sterling job of making McCoy’s illness match exactly the stomach churning activities of the criminals he’s investigating. It’s a perfect match – the bleeding ulcer in McCoy’s stomach meeting the rotting heart of these criminals’ endeavours.
As McCoy lumbers through the violence, the poverty and the exploitation of women and children, in his relentless pursuit of the truth, we can see he is killing himself. At the heart of this book there are so many questions about ethics and morality. McCoy draws his own moral lines and though they may not be straight, he is true to them. His loyalty to and relationship with Stevie Cooper is complex and goes way back but McCoy can see how others are exploiting the system and the fine line between gangland boss and businessman grows finer by the day, with respectability being bought by charitable donations and the conversion of money from illegal activities into the veneer of respectable businesses.
Alan Parks brilliantly re-creates 1970’s Glasgow and the divide between those who have and the have-nots. His violence is unremitting; the crimes are hard to stomach. But the characters are stand out brilliant, the plotting is superb and the sense of place second to none. Alan Parks asks some hard questions of his flawed protagonist and the answers do not come easily.
This is noir good and proper and it is an outstanding read. This whole series is utterly magnificent and completely unmissable and this book is the pinnacle of the series so far. Compelling, bleak and heart-breaking, this is a book not to be missed.
Alan Parks was Creative Director at London Records in the mid 1990’s, then at Warner Music, where he created ground-breaking campaigns for artists including All Saints, New Order, The Streets, Gnarls Barclay and Cee Lo Green. He was also Managing Director of 679 Recordings, a joint venture with Warner Music. His debut novel BLOODY JANUARY propelled him onto the international literary crime fiction scene immediately and his work has been hailed by contemporary writers and critics alike. Alan was born in Scotland and attended The University of Glasgow where he was awarded a M.A. in Moral Philosophy. He still lives and works in the city that is so vividly depicted in the 1970s setting of his Harry McCoy thrillers.
Photo c.Euan Robertson