The papers want blood. The force wants results. The law must be served, whatever the cost. July 1973. The Glasgow drugs trade is booming and Bobby March, the city’s own rock-star hero, has just overdosed in a central hotel. Alice Kelly is thirteen years old, lonely. And missing. Meanwhile the niece of detective Harry McCoy’s boss has fallen in with a bad crowd and when she goes AWOL, McCoy is asked – off the books – to find her. McCoy has a hunch. But does he have enough time?
Well, here is a book to gladden the heart in uncertain times, continuing on from the brilliant Bloody January, and February’s Son, both of which reached my top 10 reads of 2018 and 2019 respectively. Harry McCoy is back and with some style it has to be said. There is always a slight sense of trepidation as one book develops into a series as we start to form a connection with, and an affection for the central character. I also appreciate that this tension must be a hundredfold on the author themselves, but I’ll tell you something for nothing, I think this is possibly the strongest out of the trilogy to date. Yes. I should coco. Obviously, Parks has hit on the winning formula of writing an instantly recognisable police procedural set in 1970’s Glasgow, but it’s what the author layers into his books that make them all the more sharp and compelling…
Harry McCoy embodies all that we love in our detectives being both flawed but also a man who works by his own code that does imbue in him a real integrity and honesty. Yes, he’s a wee bit damaged emotionally, but for the most part overcomes this, and goes about his business both on and off the books with a steely focus and determination. Adhering to his own moral code naturally leads him into conflict with some of his colleagues, but it is gratifying to see that his immediate superior does know what a rough, and useful, diamond he has in Harry. Equally, McCoy’s long term friendship with one of the criminal kingpins of Glasgow Stevie Cooper, allows the stories to take an additional frisson, and it was good to see that due to one strange turn of events, Cooper is suddenly placed in a submissive position for part of the book as he succumbs to a particular weakness of the flesh.
As usual, Parks’ characterisation is a tour de force from those that work alongside McCoy, in particular his on-off partner the delightful Wattie and McCoy’s nemesis, Detective Raeburn, and on the other side of tracks Cooper’s band of merry and not-so-merry associates. I particularly like the world weary and sharp-tongued brothel madam Iris, and the truly annoying and potty-mouthed local reporter Mary. The book is also interspersed with the stream of consciousness of the eponymous Bobby March, a musician of some talent on a downward spiral of drug addiction and self destruction, that is both bleak but also profoundly touching. Parks’ characters are unerringly vividly drawn with a nervy energy, and no matter how small or large a part they play in the overall plot, each contributes a pertinent and necessary contribution, putting a real flesh on the bones as the story progresses.
Obviously, being set in the 1970’s and in a rough and ready Glasgow, the book rejects all of the politically correct nonsense which we are so hyper aware of now, and that is a real tonic. In a nod to the more sensitive reader, Parks balances his depiction of the more sexist treatment of women, with characters such as the previously mentioned Iris and Mary, who are often far more intimidating than the male protagonists. The police are less hands off and more fists out in some cases, but context is everything, and fits perfectly with the zeitgeist of the era. Glasgow is depicted in all its grim glory, but Parks balances this beautifully with moments of pure affection for this city and its inhabitants, giving small chinks of light in its grey, downtrodden environs. I always notice this more in Scottish crime fiction, and it warms the cockles every time I encounter this acceptance and honesty about their chosen locations.
So, with no element of surprise whatsoever, you’ll probably have guessed that in Bobby March Will Live Forever, Parks has once again produced a total winner. With its grim, unflinching plot, punctuated by moments of humour, and the acceptance of both the good and the bad, both in his characters, the period, the cultural references and the location itself, I would totally and completely recommend this, and the entire series to you all. Gritty, witty and an absolute must read. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Canongate for the ARC and apologies to the author and Anne Cater of #RandomThingsBlogTours for the delay in reviewing)