When an American sailor from the Holy Loch Base goes missing, Harry McCoy is determined to find him. But as he investigates, a wave of bombings hits Glasgow – with the threat of more to come. Soon McCoy realises that the sailor may be part of a shadowy organisation committed to a very different kind of Scotland. One they are prepared to kill for. Meanwhile Cooper, McCoy’s long-time criminal friend, is released from jail and convinced he has a traitor in his midst. As allies become enemies, Cooper has to fight for his position and his life. He needs McCoy to do something for him. Something illegal. McCoy is running out of time to stop another bomb, save himself from the corrupt forces who want to see him fail and save the sailor from certain death. But McCoy discovers a deeper, darker secret – the sailor is not the first young man to go missing in April…
Having read the first three books in this series, Bloody January, February’s Son, and Bobby March Will Live Forever, with all three earning a well deserved place in my top 10s of the year, now the indomitable Harry McCoy returns in The April Dead.
There is always the danger when you keep reviewing an established series that you will run out of ways to get across how good the series is. Yep. Think I’m now rapidly approaching that point. But seriously, Parks once again immerses us completely in the environs of grim 1970s Glasgow with a bombing campaign beginning, perpetrated by a new and disciplined faction, McCoy being again tied up in the nefarious activities of his criminal pal, Stevie Cooper, whilst trying to apply himself to finding the bombers and embarking on a search for an AWOL American sailor, all of which culminates in a couple of truly nail biting cliff-hangers.
It’s all going on in this one.
One of the constants of this series is the way that Parks uses McCoy to criss-cross the lines between morality and immorality, not only in the cases he is tasked with, but also in his mercurial friendship with Cooper. I absolutely love the ups and downs of this relationship, and the way that McCoy grapples with the balance between being an upholder of the law, but also bending to Cooper’s manipulative will more often than not. As Cooper is trying to thwart a potential power grab by another Glasgow criminal face, McCoy is dragged reluctantly into the struggle, trying to cover his position as a police officer, but with this also deep seated, but vehemently denied at times, loyalty to his friend. There is a wee ratcheting up of the tension between them again in this one, which adds a real colourful edge to the book, by turns darkly funny but also puts McCoy on a sticky wicket throughout. Alongside this friendship there is the usual badinage between McCoy and his colleague Wattie, with Wattie experiencing a bit of a crisis as to how good a copper he actually is, suffering the stresses of recent fatherhood, and at one point modelling a rather disturbing pair of underpants (that’s intrigued you hasn’t it?) All this gives plenty of scope in the book for gentle ribbing, and some almost touching concern from McCoy to his protégé. It’s actually quite surprising how often McCoy shows a more sensitive side to his character in this one, particularly in his dealings with the father of the missing sailor, and perhaps the stalking shadow of his own mortality has something to do with it…
As always Glasgow looms large with Parks warts-and-all depiction of a city fuelled by the blackest humour, grinding poverty, and sectarianism, suffering the effects of a bombing campaign with a particularly malevolent mastermind behind it, and a case for McCoy that may have further repercussions down the line. As always Parks perfectly navigates the line between brutal truth and undeniable affection for Glasgow and its inhabitants, as the book travels its familiar course of wry observation that also reveals deeper social fissures in the city. It’s also a good device that by incorporating the American abroad with the Andy Stewart character (searching for his missing son) this gives the reader another perception of the city from an outsider looking in, and by the same token incorporating some interesting background on the American naval strand of the story. As usual the dialogue is as slick and polished as the plot, carrying us along on a wave of ribald humour and punchy coarseness that is sharp and fluid.
Having said before that I would totally and completely recommend this series on the strength of three books, I can only say now that I would totally and completely recommend this series with the fourth included. The April Dead is a cracking addition, leaving a couple of unanswered questions at its close that will guarantee this reader will be waiting for what may come, come what may. Highly recommended.
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.
(With thanks to Canongate for the ARC)
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