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 . . .
In a helter-skelter tale – winding from moneyed elite to hipster music groupies to the brutal gangs of the urban wasteland – Bloody January brings to life the dark underbelly of 1970s Glasgow and introduces a dark and electrifying new voice in Scottish noir.
Bloody January is the first in a new series of crime novels from debut author Alan Parks. It’s a very good debut novel, set in Glasgow in January 1973. It’s well written and it captures the time and place extremely well. McCoy’s Glasgow is a cold, dark, miserable place populated by violent criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, the lost and the dispossessed. It certainly isn’t a nice, cosy detective novel. It’s gritty, dark and bloody.
It opens with Detective Harry McCoy making his way through Barlinnie prison having been summoned there (apparently) by an inmate, who tells McCoy that a girl called Lorna is going to be killed the next day in the city centre.
Despite managing to identify ‘Lorna’ while waiting to speak to her she is shot dead, in front of McCoy and his new sidekick Wattie, by a teenage boy who then shoots himself. Later that day, they find out the prisoner who told McCoy about the girl being killed has been found in the prison showers with his throat slit. No witnesses of course.
There is not much to go on to link the deaths. No obvious connection but McCoy has contacts in the criminal underworld and his enquiries eventually lead him to the home of the very wealthy Dunlop family. Despite his suspicions he might have, he is ordered to stay away from the Dunlops. The whole thing reeks of corruption and the possibility that the rich and well-connected are above the law.
Like many fictional detectives, Harry McCoy is somewhat flawed. Possibly more than most. He is potentially an alcoholic, uses recreational drugs, frequents prostitutes and associates with criminals. I’m not sure if I’ve read a book where the main character seems to get so many ‘doings’ or severe beatings and yet still manages to keep his job and continue to solve cases. There are strong references to problems in his past but we don’t know the whole story. He’s known gangster Stevie Cooper since they were boys and gets information and contacts through him but at what cost?
‘Wattie’ has been transferred from another area to experience big city police work, and is assigned to McCoy to shadow him and learn the ropes. He’s young, bright and keen. McCoy didn’t want to be lumbered with someone but had no choice in the matter. Wattie has really been thrown in at the deep end with three deaths on his first day out with McCoy.
Harry McCoy doesn’t have many redeeming features and yet there is something interesting about him. I’m hoping this is just the first book in the series and that perhaps in time he will get his act together and start to sort out his personal life.
An excellent violent, dark, crime novel.
[My thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books for providing an advance copy of this title]