Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 December 2022 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
A failed writer connects the murder of an American journalist, a drowned 80s musician and a Scottish politician’s resignation, in a heart-wrenching novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.
Renowned photo-journalist Jude Montgomery arrives in Glasgow in 2014, in the wake of the failed Scottish independence referendum, and it’ s clear that she’ s searching for someone.
Is it Anna Mason, who will go on to lead the country as First Minister? Jamie Hewitt, guitarist from eighties one-hit wonders The Hyptones? Or is it Rabbit; Jude’ s estranged foster sister, now a world-famous artist?
Three apparently unconnected people, who share a devastating secret, whose lives were forever changed by one traumatic night in Phoenix, forty years earlier…
Taking us back to a school shooting in her Texas hometown, and a 1980s road trip across the American West; to San Francisco and on to New York; Jude’ s search ends in Glasgow, and a final, shocking event that only one person can fully explain…
David F Ross is an extraordinary writer. He keeps getting better and after the stunning and much praised There’s Only One Danny Garvey I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for us.
The opening doesn’t offer too much of a clue to the sweeping epic to come. In fact, I thought it was a bit of a slow burn as I was reading until I learned to relax into Ross’s immersive prose and let this story carry me away.
In the 1980’s Jamie Hewitt is a Glaswegian musician and together with his pals Reef, Bingo, and Chic, they have formed the Hypetones, a band that is on the cusp of making something of themselves, largely aided by Annabelle Mason, daughter of the local gangland boss. Jamie is the lead singer and he is ill-equipped to handle the pressures of any kind of performance based career.
David Ross excels at this kind of character; a young working class lad who has dreams and aspirations but who lacks the mental stamina to drive himself forward. His decision making is poor; he’s the kind of young man who feels that bad things happen to him and when they do, he finds himself powerless to deal with them and runs away from the consequences faster than his legs can carry him.
Jude Montgomery is an American photo journalist from Texas. Brought up in a trailer park, her life has forever been tainted by two dramatic events in her life; a school shooting and an almost fatal mistake she made as a young woman. Taken in to a warm and loving house, she makes a terrible decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Although the mistake that she made compelled her to leave her place of love and safety, she owns that mistake so heavily that it is a weight that she carries with her wherever she goes. For all that she has a vivacity and a love of life that is captivating
Jude and Jamie’s lives will briefly intersect while the Hypetones is on a disastrous tour of the States, but it is a fleeting moment in what becomes an epic tale of the times. Ross’s book moves from the micro to the macro through fantastic characterisation and vivid dialogue that brings these moments and his characters to life in an explosive, evocative and authentic storyline.
David Ross creates a multiple timeline story, following Jude’s traumatic early life and charting the development of her love of photography that would become her career. We follow her quest to find the Scottish father she never knew and feel her desperate need to atone for the hurt she has caused. She has real guts and a self-awareness that grows as she makes her way through the world –shaking events that shape America as much as they shape her.
It is easy to like Jude and as you follow her life you become really invested in her quests. Jamie, on the other hand, starts off as a troubled and confused young man who you can’t help but like. But the more you understand what he has done and failed to take responsibility for, the more you see him retreat from ownership of his ills, the less he comes across as a sympathetic character. As the Hypetones begin their tour of the States, it becomes very clear that he does not have the emotional maturity or strength of character to handle it and as a result this tour is destined to fail. Ross paints a vivid and compelling portrait of all these characters and we follow their paths as the decades go by.
Ross combines these very personal stories and weaves them seamlessly into a bigger picture as each of these people intersects with some of the most memorable historic moments and people of our recent past in both Scotland the USA. He brings it all to life with detailed and remarkable observation and a grit that makes his dialogue sparkle with authenticity. These moments impact on our characters in different ways and none more so than on Jude whose photo journalism becomes a filter to look back on. She is the catalyst for much of the action in this story – the connection for everything.As a reader you are invested in these characters and there’s a strong emotional core that drives you on. You can see so clearly how the formative years of these striking and beautifully observed characters inform their decisions in later life and why things implode and impact the way they do.
This story culminates in Scotland during the Independence Referendum as Jude travels in search of her foster sister Rabbit, now an internationally recognised artist. Her journey brings everything to a head until the whole devastating truth is finally revealed.
Verdict: This is a massively perceptive and glorious novel. I was profoundly shocked as much as I was captivated by its scope and intensity. Ross’s novel is forceful and authoritative; it is a book that takes the personal journeys of his characters and brings them into blazing, colourful, life. The conclusion is so savage it took my breath away. I will be thinking about this book for a long time. David F. Ross is unquestionably a writer at the top of his powers and this book is a must read for me.
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David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock
for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of
Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a
hilarious social-media commentator, author and enabler by night. His
debut novel The Last Days of Disco was shortlisted for the Authors
Club Best First Novel Award, and optioned for the stage by the Scottish
National Theatre. All five of his novels have achieved notable critical
acclaim and There’s Only One Danny Garvey, published in 2021 by
Orenda Books, was shortlisted for the prestigious Saltire Society Prize
for Scottish Fiction Book of the Year. David lives in Ayrshire.
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Thanks for the blog tour support x