It can be difficult for a writer to make their mark in the crowded, thriving, marketplace that is Scottish crime fiction. Tartan Noir, as it has become know, is a national literary phenomenon with Bloody Scotland, the international crime festival, now one of the country’s biggest and most eagerly anticipated annual book events.
As a result there are many writers, both new and established, turning their hand to crime (you can insert your own gag), but someone who made an immediate impact with his debut, and has since established himself as a ‘must read’ author in the space of only three books in, is Alan Parks.
His Harry McCoy thrillers are impeccable examples of how to bring something new to the genre while fulfilling certain expectations. He embraces and plays with many of the stereotypes and tropes of Tartan Noir and the Glasgow thriller resulting in novels that should appeal beyond hardcore crime fans and reach a wider readership.
First we had Bloody January, followed by February’s Son. The latest is Bobby March Will Live Forever and it sees Harry McCoy return alongside other regulars. A large part of these novels’ charm is the complex and charismatic nature of Parks’ characters, and it’s a pleasure to become reacquainted each time. He manages to imbue them with both charm and menace, with the balance on those scales shifting depending who it is and the situations they find themselves in as threats to their safety and well-being come and go. Lines are blurred between saints and sinners, with Harry McCoy comfortable living among both.
While the novels work well individually, with new crimes and criminals to satisfy first time readers, in this case I have to recommend reading them all as this is a series which rewards immersion in the world Parks’ creates. There are threads and storylines which run through them, not only the ever-developing relationships, but also changes in the city itself, one being the increasing hold that heroin began to have on Glasgow’s streets at that time – something which has a big part to play in the latest instalment.
Bobby March of the title is a talented rock guitarist and a man who almost had it all, a life we get to glimpse through flashbacks. His death in a Glasgow hotel almost seems inevitable, but this is only one line of enquiry that Harry McCoy has to pursue. Add in a missing girl, a politician’s wayward daughter, old-school Glasgow gangsters, potential police corruption, Irish paramilitaries, and a body count on the rise, and you’ll begin to realise that Parks jam-packs his books with incidents and accidents, and McCoy has to work out which is which.
Bobby March Will Live Forever shows that Alan Parks is getting better all the time, and as he becomes more familiar with Harry McCoy and his world it is we readers who will benefit. The writing is at various times tense, humorous, extreme, but always gripping – the very definition of a page-turner with Parks weaving plot strands together with great skill.
He also uses research lightly, revealing just enough knowledge to make his point. For instance, Parks previously worked in the music industry, something which he puts to good use this time round, but, like his writing in general, the details are always well-judged and appropriate. If you are looking for more than just a one-off read, and want to immerse yourself in another man’s world, then meet Harry McCoy. He’s great company.