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by Alan Parks
Europa/World Noir, May 2022
372 pages
ISBN: 1609457536

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this fifth appearance of Glasgow police detective Harry McCoy, it is May, 1974, merely a month on from Harry's last appearance in THE APRIL DEAD. Needless to say, Harry has not heeded his doctor's warnings that he faces a premature death if he doesn't give up the tobacco and the booze. His only concession to his ulcer is the frightening number of bottles of Pepto-Bismol he puts away on a daily basis.

Followers of the series will recall that Harry's early life, while leaving him with both scars and open wounds, nevertheless provided him with a valuable set of contacts among some less respectable or even criminal Glaswegians. And although he's a man in his early thirties, he is carrying the baggage of his anger at his appalling father, mixed though it is with shame and love. To remain in control, he is wound very tight. His other weakness, considering his job, is an inability to stand the sight of blood or the odd little bits of anatomy visible at the autopsies he is required to attend.

The book opens near Glasgow's Sheriff's Court where a large crowd is baying for the blood of three teenaged boys who are charged with setting fire to a beauty salon, killing several women and children. The demand is "an eye for an eye," with hanging, abolished for close to a decade, to be restored. Had the crowd got its way, the boys would have had a better death than they are slated for. On the way back from court, the police transport van is hijacked, the boys kidnapped and completely disappear. It is a move that required very slick organization and that smells of gangs. Had the arsonists been paid to burn the salon down by one or another rival gang looking to establish dominance in the neighbourhood?

Although he is technically not on the case due to his physical condition, Harry does pursue an investigation via his dubious contacts. It yields less than he hopes even though it becomes very pressing as two of the three turn up dead. They had been horribly tortured. They are not the only deaths, as a porn magazine merchant is a possible suicide and the body of a young girl is found, an evident murder victim. And the clock is still ticking for the last lad of the kidnapped trio.

As Harry continues to follow up leads, the plot continues to thicken in a very satisfactory way. Nothing happens that is beyond belief; Harry is led to various places and people who flesh out our view of Glasgow in 1975. We feel we are in a living city and only reminded that all of this is happening almost fifty years ago when, for example, Harry has to seek out a urine-scented phone booth to call headquarters. Although I cannot bear witness to the accuracy of the portrait, several Glaswegian reviewers who can are decidedly impressed.

The narrative culminates in a genuinely shocking conclusion, one that resolves the issue of retribution raised in the first chapter, but one that may cause a certain discomfort in many readers. If you are a reader of Ian Rankin or one mourning the loss of William McIlvaney, you should appreciate Alan Parks.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, July 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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