Alan Parks – May God Forgive

Alan Parks – May God Forgive

Harry McCoy hasn’t really recovered after his latest case but is back to work as the whole city is mourning the loss of five women and children who were killed after somebody set fire to a hairdresser’s. The atmosphere in the city is hot when the three young men are arrested for the crime, but just outside the courthouse, the police van is attacked and the three of them are kidnapped. It does not take too long until the first shows up again: severely mutilated and killed. Police need to find the hiding place before the other two are massacred, too. Yet, this is not the only case Harry has to work on, a young unknown girl has been strangled and dumped on a cemetery. The police detective does not have the least idea where this case will lead and what it will demand of him.

The fifth instalment of Alan Parks’ series cantered around the Glasgow detective Harry McCoy again combines brilliantly the mood of the 1974 Scottish city with McCoy’s personal life. “May God Forgive” repeatedly challenges morals and ethics and raises the question if something as a fair trial and sentence can exist.

I have been a huge fan of the series from the start and I still have the impression that it is getting better with each new novel. This time, it is several cases that drive the plot. First of all, the case of the burnt down hairdresser’s which seems to be connected to the city’s gang rivalries. McCoy wanders between the world of law and order and the illegal underworld thus getting closer to what has happened. He ignores his health which would much rather confine him to his home, but what should he do there?

His private life is also addressed in several ways thus granting more and more insight in the complex relationship he has with his father and his upbringing. Loyalties going far back in to his childhood now force him to question his very own place as a representative of the system, much more than it did before even though his friendship with Stevie Cooper put him in tricky situations before. Can you ever really overcome where you come from? Obviously not, but on the other hand: aren’t the institutions responsible for law and order sometimes as corrupt as the underworld?

A lot of suspense and food for thought as you as a reader quite naturally also ponder about the question how you would have reacted in McCoy’s place. Another great read of one of the best contemporary crime series.

Alan Parks – The April Dead

Alan Parks – The April Dead

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.

Denise Mina – Conviction

denise mina conviction
Denise Mina – Conviction

Just like every day, Anna McDonald gets up in the morning and turns on a podcast to relax before the usual commotion of her family starts. This morning, however, will be completely different. First, she learns in a true crime podcast that her former friend Leon has been murdered on a boat off the French coast, then, her husband tells her that he’s going to run away with her best friend Estelle taking their two girls with them. When Estelle’s husband Fin Cohen, a famous musician, turns up and a photo of the two of them goes viral, her carefully built life crumbles and falls. It will not be long before someone will recognise her, before those people that she has hidden from for years will finally find her, before it all will start again. She needs to run away again, but before, together with Fin, she will find out what happened to Leon and if the person she supposes behind it all is still looking for her.

Sometimes you start a novel, expecting it to be entertaining and gripping, but then you are literally dragged into it and cannot stop reading. That’s what happened to me with “Conviction”, once I began reading, I was spellbound and fascinated and absolutely wanted to know what all this was about. Due to Denise Mina’s clever foreshadowing and the high pace of the plot, you don’t get a second to relax and breathe deeply, as the protagonist runs, you are tagged along and eagerly follow.

Denise Mina does not waste any time, the story starts like a bull at the gate and before you are even the slightest oriented, you are already in the middle of the mess that Anna is experiencing. Choosing a first person narrator was some clever decision as thus, we only get her perspective, only what she wants to share and which leaves the reader in the dark for quite some time. At first, she seems to be totally overreacting until you realise that there is much more behind it all. The good and dutiful housewife obvious is entangled in some unbelievably big conspiracy with powerful people far beyond any law enforcement.

A proper page-turner with unexpected twists and turns which also has some witty and comical bits and pieces to offer.

Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

alan parks bobby march will live forever
Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

A heat wave is rolling over Glasgow in July 1973 and just so is the drug business booming. One of the victims is Bobby March, the city’s greatest rock star, found dead in a hotel. Yet, this goes more or less unnoticed since the town is holding its breath with looking for young Alice Kelly who has disappeared into thin air. Her parents are neither rich nor famous, no ransom has been demanded, so everybody fears she might have been killed by some random perpetrator. With his boss Murray away and Raeburn in charge, life at Glasgow police becomes unbearable for Detective Harry McCoy who is ordered to the most loathing jobs. With the heat not going to cool down, the atmosphere is getting more and more tense and it is just a question of time until the necessary explosion comes.

The third instalment of Alan Parks’s series set in the 1970s Glasgow is by far the best. In the first, “Bloody January”, we get an idea of the city slowly declining, in “February’s son”, we learn about the underworld and their connection with McCoy. Now, the focus is set on the police who have the hardest job imaginable to do. Apart from the very personal aspects in this novel, again Alan Parks managed to create a brilliant atmosphere which gives you a feeling of the city and the constraints the inhabitants have to live in.

The plot combines several lines all equally thrilling and suspenseful. Apart from the kidnapping story – which will have much wider repercussions than apparent at the beginning – and McCoy’s personal war with Raeburn, there is also the ominous death of rock star Bobby March which gets unexpectedly personal for McCoy, too (and serves to continue the witty naming of the series). Added to this, Harry is asked by his boss to secretly look for his niece, 15-year-old Laura has been in trouble for quite some time, but now her disappearance seems to be more serious. All this is poured over McCoy and leads to a fast-paced story which you have to follow carefully in order not to get lost. Yet, the skilful and clever detective can connect the dots and bring all cases to an end.

The character of Harry McCoy is a fantastic protagonist. On the one hand, he is totally down to earth and knows how to talk to people no matter their background. He is an excellent policeman yet blends in easily with the underworld and its shady figures. On the other hand, he is totally loyal to his colleagues and has very high standards when it comes to police work and law and order. He knows where not to look too closely, but he is also determined when it comes to crossing a red line. Thus, his pragmatic but straightforward approach to his work makes him a sympathetic and authentic character.

A superb read which combines a great protagonist with a complex plot and lives from the stunning atmosphere the author creates.

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

douglas stuart shuggie bain
Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

Agnes had so many hopes for her life. Her first husband was simply a disappointment, too well-behaved, too boring. With Shug Bain things could be different. But soon she wakes up still in her childhood room with her parents, aged 39 and mother of three kids. Shug promises a better life and rents them a home in a run-down public housing area on the outskirts of Glasgow. Yet, Shug does not really move in with his family, he is driving his taxi more and more often and spends his free time with other women. Soon enough, Agnes finds comfort in alcohol, her new neighbourhood is the perfect place to drown your thoughts and worries in cans of beer. Shuggie’s older brother Leek and his sister Catherine can distance themselves from their always intoxicated mother, yet, Shuggie is too young and for years, he hopes that one days, Agnes will be sober and they will have a life like any normal family.

Douglas Stuart’s novel is really heart-wrenching. You follow Shuggie’s childhood in the 1980s, a time when life was hard for many working class families who often did not know how to make ends meet which drove many fathers and mothers to alcohol. Shuggie’s love for his mother is unconditional, he is too young to understand the mechanisms behind her addiction and to see what it does not only to her but also to him. It would be too easy to blame Agnes for the misery she brings to herself and her son, she too is a victim of the time she lives in and the society that surrounds her. Industrial times are over in Scotland and the formerly working class turn into a new underclass.

It is not the plot that stands out in this novel, actually, all that happens is a downward spiral of alcoholism and decay that leads to the necessary end one would expect. Much more interesting are the two main characters, mother and son, and their development throughout the novel. Agnes tries to preserve her pride, to be the glamorous and beautiful woman she has once been and who has always attracted men even when times get tough. She keeps her chin up as long as she can – at least when she happens to be sober.

Already at a young age Shuggie has to learn that life will not offer him much. His family’s poverty and his mother’s addiction would be enough challenge in life. However, the older he gets, the more unsure he becomes about who he actually is. As a young boy, he prefers playing with girls’ toys and later he does not really develop an interest in girls either which makes him an easy target of bullying. No matter how deep his mother sinks, he always hopes for better days, days with his father, days without hunger. He is good at observing and even better at doing what is expected of him. He learns quickly how to behave around the different men in their home, how to hide his life from the outside world. In Leanne, he finally finds somebody who can understand him because she herself leads exactly the same life. They only long to be normal, yet, a normal life is not something that their childhood has been destined to.

Quite often you forget how young Shuggie is, his life is miserable but he has perfectly adapted to the circumstances. Douglas Stuart provides insight in a highly dysfunctional family where you can nevertheless find love and affection. It is clear that there is no escape from this life which makes it totally depressing. Somehow, the novel reminds me of the “Kitchen Sink” dramas with the only difference of being set in the 1980s and shown from a female perspective. Agnes is not the angry young woman; she is the desperate middle-aged mother whose dreams are over and who provides only one example to her son: do not expect anything from life or anybody.

An emotionally challenging novel due to its unforgiving realism.

Alan Parks – February’s Son

Alan Parks – February’s Son

It’s been three weeks since the events of that bloody January. Harry McCoy is about to return to work with the Glasgow police hoping for some more quiet times. But when Murray calls him in early, he knows that it must be serious: a young football stars has been found, not just killed but also mutilated. It is obvious quickly that his fame as sports stars wasn’t the reason for his killing, it is much more his engagement with the daughter one of Glasgow’s underworld bosses. And then it all gets very personal: Harry’s past is going to catch up with him and the eager policeman loses control.

I already really liked the first instalment of the Harry McCoy series, but the second was actually even better. This is especially due to the fact that the protagonist gets more contours, becomes more human and thus his character and decision making becomes understandable. The development and insight in this character was for me the strongest and most interesting in reading “February’s Son”.

Again the murder case is quite complex and all but foreseeable. Different cases are actually linked and it takes some time until you understand their connection and their particular relevance for McCoy. The whole series is set in 1973 which means there is a fairly different atmosphere in comparison to many novels set today. Glasgow is an all but friendly town constantly at war, the police’s job is to prevent the worst, not to take care of minor misdoings and therefore, they sometimes need to find less legal ways to keep the upper hand. The tone is harsh at times, certainly nothing for the highly sensitive. Fights are part of everyday life and a bleeding nose is nothing to worry too much about. Yet, this all fits perfectly and creates an authentic atmosphere of a time long gone. It will not be easy to outstrip this novel with a third.

Alan Parks – Bloody January

Alan Parks – Bloody January

‚It can‘t have been that bad.‘ But it was.

January 1973 first brought a promotion to Detective Harry McCoy of Glasgow police, but then things wrecked havoc. When Howie Nairn, a prisoner in the Special Unit of Barlinnie wants to see him, he is a bit irritated. Why especially him? And what does he have to say? Nairn tells him to take care of a certain Lorna who works in a posh restaurant and is likely to be killed the next day. McCoy doesn’t really believe him but nevertheless sets out to search for her. In vain. He can only watch how the young woman is shot in central Glasgow by a man who then commits suicide. Quite a strange thing, but things are going to get a lot more complicated and soon McCoy has to realize that the laws aren’t made for everybody.

Alan Park‘s first novel of the McCoy series lives on the atmosphere of 1970s Glasgow. The city hasn’t turned into the town it is today but resembles a rather run down place where police and gangland work hand in hand – have to work hand in hand if they want to solve any case at all. McCoy is rather unconventional in his work, but he certainly has the heart in the right place and fights for justice.

There are two things I really liked about the story: on the one hand, it is quite complicated and all but foreseeable, on the other hand, Alan Parks‘s has chosen inconvenient aspects which he puts in a different light which shows the complexity of reality and that live is not only black and white but full of shades of grey. McCoy can work for the police but maintain good relationships with old friends who control the criminal world. The recognized upper class are not the good-doers but also have their dark sides. And many people struggle to make a living, wanting to be good but at times have to ignore their own values simply to survive.

A novel which is full of suspense, with a convincing protagonist and perfectly crafted atmosphere of a dark Glasgow.

Denzil Meyrick – Die Mädchen von Strathclyde

Denzil Meyrick – Die Mädchen von Strathclyde

Constable Jim Daley ist noch recht neu bei der Polizei von Glasgow und zum banalen Streifendienst verdonnert. Eigentlich träumt er ja davon, irgendwann einmal bei der Kripo Mordfälle lösen zu können. Ein Anruf eines besorgten Nachbarn liefert ihm auch schon eine Leiche: Tracey Greene wird tot in ihrer Wohnung aufgefunden. Was zunächst den Anschein eines goldenen Schusses einer sich prostituierenden Drogenabhängigen erscheint, stellt sich rasch als heimtückischer Mord heraus. Schon der dritte innerhalb kürzester Zeit in Glasgow. Jim erhält seine Chance und hat schon bald eine Verbindung zu einem stadtbekannten Obdachlosen im Visier. Dass diese Verbindung noch viel mehr beinhaltet, als das Zusammentreffen zweier gesellschaftlicher Außenseiter, ahnt er noch gar nicht.

Ein knackiger Kurzkrimi, der interessanterweise im Jahr 1986 angesiedelt ist. Handys, Internet, jede Form der modernen Kommunikation entfällt und auch anstelle von Computern sind noch Schreibmaschinen im Einsatz. Eine angenehme Abwechslung im Genre, die von Denzil Meyrick auch glaubwürdig und in die Zeit passend umgesetzt wird.

Aufgrund der Kürze kommt der Krimi weitgehend ohne groß Schnörkel und Nebenhandlungen aus, sondern bleibt recht fokussiert auf den Fall. Die Lösung findet sich entsprechend zügig, aber nicht unglaubwürdig übereilt. Die Spuren sowie das Motiv sind für mich überzeigend und die Handlung insgesamt glaubwürdig. Alles in allem, ein für die Länge passabler Fall, der bei der Figurenzeichnung etwas an Format hätte gewinnen können.

Gail Honeyman – Ich, Eleanor Oliphant

Gail Honeyman – Ich, Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant ist eine junge Frau, die ein sehr geregeltes Leben führt. Sie geht morgens pünktlich zur Arbeit als Debitorenbuchhalterin, kehrt am Abend zurück, hört dann die Archers im Radio und kocht sich Nudeln mit Pesto. Jeden Tag. Außer freitags, da gönnt sie sich eine Fertigpizza und zwei Flaschen Wodka, mit denen sie dann das Wochenende überleben kann. Kontakt zu Menschen hat sie kaum, mit ihren Kollegen spricht sie nur das Nötigste. Freunde? Fehlanzeige. Nur mit ihrer Mutter telefoniert sie einmal pro Woche. So geht das Leben jahrein jahraus. Bis sie eines Tages nach der Arbeit zufällig zusammen mit ihrem Kollegen Raymond Zeuge eines Zusammenbruchs eines alten Mannes wird. Raymond zwingt sie, dem Mann ebenfalls zu helfen und ihn auch wenige Tage später im Krankenhaus zu besuchen. Raymond ist fasziniert und verwundert zugleich von der Frau, der so jede Sozialkompetenz zu fehlen scheint und die alle Aussagen ihrer Mitmenschen wörtlich zu nehmen scheint. Normale soziale Anlässe überfordern sie, aber langsam bewegt sich etwas in Eleanor und vielleicht gelingt es Raymond ja herauszufinden, wo die Narben herkommen, die in Eleanors Gesicht und Hände prägen.

Zu Beginn des Romans hat mich Eleanor mit ihrer Art etwas überfordert, ähnlich wie auch die Figuren, denen sie im Alltag begegnet. Einerseits macht sie einen intelligenten und gebildeten Eindruck, doch in der Interaktion mit anderen versagt sie kläglich. Sie kann ihre Gesten und Mimik nicht deuten, spricht eine andere Sprache als sie und all das, was für Menschen in ihrem Alter normal zu sein scheint, ist ihr völlig fremd. Sie hat sich Standardsätze antrainiert, mit denen es ihr gelingt, einfache Konversation zu bewältigen, ansonsten hält sie sich von Menschen fern. Ihr Verhalten liegt schon beinahe im Autismusspektrum, so abweichend ist es; die Tatsache, dass sie vom Sozialdienst betreut wird, spricht auch dafür, dass sie doch größere Probleme in der eigenständigen Lebensbewältigung hat. Doch durch den Kontakt zu Raymond lernt sie langsam hinzu und öffnet sich für die Welt. Zu diesen neuen Erfahrungen kommt auch zum ersten Mal so etwas wie Verliebtheit, ein Sänger einer lokalen Band hat es ihr angetan und sie ist fest davon überzeugt, dass sie ihn von sich überzeugen kann. Doch dann kommt der Rückschlag und Eleanor wird in die dunkelste Zeit ihres Lebens zurückgeworfen, langsam erfährt der Leser, warum die junge Frau so geworden ist, wie sie ist und welches Schicksal sie durchleiden musste.

Der Roman überzeugt vor allem durch die Figurenzeichnung Eleanors. Zunächst die in kleinen Szenen verdeutlichte Schwierigkeit im Umgang mit Menschen, aber auch ihre Entwicklung und der unvermeidliche Rückschlag – den ich insbesondere passend fand, im Leben geht nicht immer gradlinig bergauf. Der zweite Aspekt ist die Frage, was in Eleanors Leben geschehen ist. Immer wieder äußert sie im Gespräch kleine Details: sie trägt einen neuen Namen, bekam eine neue Identität, zog als Kind häufig um, es gab irgendwann wohl ein Feuer – doch erst gegen Ende enthüllt sich das ganze Drama, das einem als Leser schier den Atem raubt.

Psychologisch besonders spannend fand ich das Verhältnis zwischen Eleanor und ihrer Mutter. Einerseits haben sie regelmäßig Kontakt, die Mutter nimmt Anteil an ihrem Leben und zeigt Interesse, gleichzeitig beleidigt und beschimpft sie Eleanor. Die junge Frau kann sich ihrem Urteil auch nicht lösen denn, die ist nun einmal ihre Mutter:

„Sie ist ein schlechter Mensch und hat Schlimmes getan, aber eine andere Mutter habe ich nicht.“ (Pos. 5472)

Ein bemerkenswerter Roman, der jedoch für meinen Geschmack mit einer Triggerwarnung versehen werden sollte, denn vieles, was hier dargestellt wird, ist sicherlich nicht für jeden Leser einfach zu ertragen.