Book review: Bloody January by Alan Parks

Friday, January 19, 2018 Permalink

It’s only in recent years I’ve discovered books set during the years of my childhood… years in which I was pretty ignorant of the events taking place on the other side of the world. As a result then, I’ve been very much enjoying books like Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series, set in 1980s Belfast during the thick of the ‘Troubles’.

Bloody January by Alan Parks takes readers back to 1973 Glasgow, where bribery and corruption is practically expected and morality and ethics only just entering the culture of the police force. 

Book review: Bloody January by Alan ParksBloody January
by Alan Parks
Published by Canongate Books
on December 28th 2017
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1786891344, 9781786891334
Pages: 321

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn't a random act of violence.

With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow's wealthiest family, the Dunlops.

McCoy's boss doesn't want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

Readers who have a problem with the ‘c’ word should probably avoid this book. It’s bandied about lavishly and wantonly. I’m fine with it though try not to use it in polite company. (So only with my friends then…. 😉 )

I’ve previously struggled with Scottish and Welsh books that reflect too much of their country’s vernacular. I’m sure people probably say the some about some Australian novels… in fact I recall putting something aside years ago because the author had thrown as many Australianisms into the first few pages as they possibly could.

This wasn’t like that. It felt natural, but ‘translated’ (if you like) well to we non-Glaswegians.

I really liked recently promoted Detective Harry McCoy. He’s an interesting lead… he certainly has his foibles – frequents a prostitute who works for a local crime boss (also Harry’s childhood friend) and happily partakes in a joint or two and drinks like a fish. But underneath it all he’s a good guy and there are lines he won’t cross. (Or will he?)

It’s a different time and – as I said – one I’ve visited a little recently, via McKinty’s series as well as the likes of Lynda LaPlante’s young Jane Tennison series. It’s interesting to revisit the past and something I sometimes ponder in our #MeToo times. Things were very different during my own childhood and – though much of the behaviour of those in power (not to mention, men towards women) is (in retrospect?) HIGHLY inappropriate and often bloody awful, it was the norm, rarely questioned and mostly accepted back then.

The graft and corruption in which Harry dabbles is in fact commonplace and it’s quite shocking to those who didn’t live through those years.

Law enforcement now is certainly a world away from the police we meet in this novel who ‘fell’ into the police force in their teens as they couldn’t get other jobs. Indeed, Harry’s lack of respect for many of his colleagues is a reflection of the quality of the police force at the time.

That not-entirely-ethical culture is almost a character in itself in this novel and offers a unsettling and complex backdrop to the unfolding plot.

When we meet him Harry’s partnered off with a younger police officer – too new and shiny for Harry’s liking, but Wattie proves himself to be trustworthy and an eager pupil.

I found both men, as well as Harry’s boss Murray all to be very engaging. Murray’s a bit of a hard arse, but has Harry’s back and his respect.

I must admit I was initially – on occasions – a little confused. There’s a lot of reference to past events (Harry’s heroic efforts on behalf of the homeless for example) and it felt almost as if this book was part of an already-commenced series, though it is in fact Parks’ debut novel. He does eventually clarify some of these references and and I was quite intrigued by Harry’s backstory, including his childhood allegiances to the Glaswegian underworld. And then of course there’s his own ethical battles.

He liked the polis well enough, he was good at it and it had been good to him. Took him on at sixteen, no qualifications. Had been them or the army. Just that lately he’d had the feeling he was about ten years too late for it. Detective ten years ago, that’s what he should have been. Simpler times then. These days he was stuck halfway between Murray and the bikers round the pool table. Sitting in an after-hours club speeding out his mind with a police badge hidden in his suit pocket. Two didn’t really fit together. p 84

I suspect we’ll meet Harry again and it’s a reunion I hope to make.

Bloody January by Alan Parks was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.



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