1974 and Glasgow is shaken by homemade bombs. What so far was only known to happen in Northern Ireland, now also seems to have reached Scotland. Detective Harry McCoy is assigned the investigation, but first, he needs to head to the prison where his oldest friends Stevie Cooper is released. Harry tells him to keep his head down for a couple of days, despite knowing Stevie’s character only too well. Thus, he starts a series of gang feuds in Glasgow’s underworld which adds to the mysterious bombings. And there is another case which Harry tries to solve: an American father is looking for his son who disappeared while being stationed with the navy in Scotland. Just like always, all things happen at the same time and McCoy has another couple of challenging days ahead.
Following the Harry McCoy series from the first instalment, I have since been a huge fan of Alan Park’s novels. The first two, “Bloody January” and “February’s Son” presented us the protagonist of the series and his family background and link to the underworld, “Bobby March Will Live Forever” focussed a bit more on the police world in 1970s Glasgow, the latest book is again brilliant in creating a special atmosphere and gives insight in how, at times, the truth needs to be adapted to the needs while not losing sight of rightfulness and justice.
The bombings plot is quickly linked to a paramilitary army which, of course, strongly reminds of the IRA. A charismatic leader who abuses his followers to accomplish his mission in a complex political environment is perfectly chosen for a crime novel. The missing son is an interesting addition since this illustrates the family pressure which was much stronger five decades ago than today.
Undoubtedly the most fascinating aspect was this time how McCoy is torn between his conviction as a member of the police and his bond with Cooper, himself the number one of Glasgow’s underworld. McCoy is not actually afraid of what Cooper might be willing to do to him, but he shows respect while making his point as a detective, at the same time. Even though he follows his instinct, which is often totally right, he is also at fault at times and has to cope with the consequences and challenge his sense of justice.
Another enjoyable and suspenseful novel which is not only highly complex but cleverly made-up with a careful rhythm and thus, for me, one of the best crime series at the moment.
2003, Cleveland. He has just arrived at uni when he meets Emily and falls for her immediately. They love each other passionately, just as they love Ecstasy. When Emily moves back home to Elba and splits up, he loses control and is expelled from college soon after. The army promises an interesting future – or better: a future at all. As a medic he is briefly trained before they send him to Iraq. A year in the Middle East, a year in the war. What he sees is unimaginable and to avoid the pictures in his head and to deal with the everyday loss of comrades, he needs more and more pills. When he returns, he cannot find a way back in life. With Emily, he’s got an on-and-off relationship which is mainly marked by their common use of heroin. A normal life seems possible, but the constant need of money for more drugs and the fact of passing out frequently hinders them from actually having it.
“Cherry” is the story of an average young man whose life spirals down into the abyss. It’s not the one big event that throws him off course, it’s a bit here and there, a relationship that breaks up, not getting enough credits at college, simply losing the aim in life. Of course, the experiences made in the war are a major event and it is hard to imagine that anybody can live through this without serious psychological disturbances or PTSD. The novel brings out the worst that drugs can do to somebody and it underlines how long this can go on without people around noticing anything, how long they can keep up appearances before wreaking havoc.
Yet, it is not only the topic, the narrator’s life that is shown bluntly by Nico Walker. What he does masterly, too, is to adapt the language to the situation:
The car bomb did what car bombs do and four were dead in the market. It would have been more but the sheep took most of the blast. So you had flesh and blood and wool on the pavement. You had bloodstains on the pavement, little lakes of blood.
There is no reason to embellish anything, it’s just the blunt reality that Walker describes in the most brutal and direct way. Most of the soldiers were “Cherries” which gives the novel its title: soldiers who have never been in a fight and whose behaviour is unpredictable and therefore a danger to the whole platoon. They were ill prepared in every possible way, but the worst is that they were ill prepared to return to a life in the civilian society. Walker doesn’t beat about the bush, his novel accuses their treatment, as well as the way drug addicts are taken care of, or rather: not taken care of. He shows a reality that nobody wants to see but which exists among us. The style of writing might not be for everybody, but it is perfect for this novel.