Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Review of Bloody January by Alan Parks (2017, Canongate)

Glasgow, 1973. Detective Harry McCoy is told by a violent criminal in the city’s prison that a young woman is to die by the morning. After a drunken night, and with his new partner in tow, McCoy waits at the bus centre for the young woman’s bus to arrive. When it does a teenage boy shoots the woman dead then turns the gun on himself. The boy worked in the grounds of the Dunlops, a rich, well-connected family, one that is well-known to McCoy. He had a run-in with them a couple of years ago, his former police partner now works security for them, and the mother of his dead child lives in their house. After making a hames of his visit the Dunlops, McCoy’s boss constrains his investigation. McCoy is soon trailing round brothels and homeless hangouts trying to find other leads, but he’s sure the Dunlops are involved somehow even if they appear untouchable and few people are willing to help. He also has other problems, namely a psychotic gang leader, Stevie Cooper, who will occasionally help out his boyhood friend, but always at a heavy price.

Detective Harry McCoy is an anti-hero cop cut from a familiar set of tropes – a man who grew up in institutional care, who’s boyhood friend is a major criminal, who’s own child died young, who has a drink and authority problem, is a Catholic in a sectarian institution, and who regularly strays beyond the bounds of acceptable policing practice. He has a moral compass of sorts and believes in justice, even if it’s occasionally rough in nature. In this first book in the series he’s investigating the murder of a young prostitute who seems to have been catering for violent tastes. He suspects a link to a rich family, but has been warned to stay away. But Harry isn’t very good at following orders and his new partner, Wattie, seems prepared to tolerate his unorthodox methods. It seems, however, that he’s straying too far from the path, both professionally and personally, as he mixes with criminals and prostitutes and habitually gets drunk and takes soft drugs, as well as taking regular beatings. It’s a good job he’s got a semi-understanding boss that he respects. Parks spins the tale in a hardboiled style, keeps the story moving at a decent clip, and does a good job of capturing Glasgow in 1973 and the criminal underbelly of the city. There’s no great surprise in the resolution, but that matters little as it’s as much a tale about the journey as destination. Overall, a well told, dark slice of Scottish noir.

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