Detective Harry McCoy is back on the mean streets of Glasgow for the fourth time in Alan Parks’ latest Tartan Noir thriller The April Dead. Those who started with Parks’ debut Bloody January and followed McCoy through February’s Son and Bobby March Will Live Forever, will notice a distinct pattern in the titles. But hey, if it worked for Sue Grafton it can work for Alan Parks.
It is 1974, and McCoy is called to the site of an explosion and the death of a bombmaker, caught by his own device in the heart of Glasgow. Not long after he is approached by a retired US Navy Captain whose son has gone missing from the US Naval Base in Glasgow. The investigation into the bombmaker will touch on the troubles in Ireland, Scottish nationalism and link to the young man’s disappearance. But at the same time, McCoy is still managing his relationship with his old friend and local crime lord Stevie Cooper, fresh out of a stint in prison and the target of a vengeful crime family. The history that sits at the heart of this relationship, that goes back to when the two were in and out of local orphanages, has driven much of the action and the moral greyness of this series.
Once again, Parks unerringly drops the reader into a grimy, but slowly changing, mid-1970s Glasgow:
Whole town seemed grey, miserable-faced people hurrying past, all wrapped up against the cold wind coming from the water. They passed some closed-up shops, wooden boards over the windows covered in graffiti. A group of kids were sitting on an abandoned car with a smashed windscreen, fire going in a metal rubbish bin lighting up the scene. And like Glasgow, there were the inevitable lads on corners freezing in wee bomber jackets and wide trousers. All pinched faces, all passing fags and cans, all looking for trouble.
McCoy himself is a classic noir policeman. Dogged and intuitive, determined to get to the truth. Unsuccessfully trying to stay off alcohol and cigarettes. Loyal to his nervous offsider yet inherently compromised by his relationship with Cooper. Somehow able to weave his way through the moral grey areas and layers of favours to just keep himself out of trouble. And much like Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy, Harry McCoy is a well realised product of his time and a great guide to the violent streets of 1970s Glasgow.
There is a slight stretch of the credibility meter when the off-book missing persons investigation intersects with the main case (although this is always on the cards). Even so, The April Dead is another solid entry in a great ongoing series.