Bobby March Will Live Forever is a hot, sprawling mess of a novel. Its characters are hot, sprawling messes. And the city in which it is set? Yep. That too. This is a Tartan Noir thriller first, historical novel second. Set in a 1973 Glasgow heatwave, it deals in truth, and falsehood, and ambiguity. It’s a rollicking ride and if, as the series titles indicate, there will be nine more outings for Harry McCoy, there will be plenty who will sign up for it.
There’s meticulous detail, and there’s swaggering chutzpah. I ended up following McCoy round the Dear Green Place on Google Maps, looking up some of the places, learning about the history of places like Wine Alley. Very accurate. Possibly less historical is a recurring character in the life of legendary guitarist Bobby March: Keith Richards. KEITH RICHARDS! For March supposedly auditioned to be in the Stones, and turned their offer down. Author Alan Parks draws on his professional knowledge to take us behind the scenes: we’re with March in the recording booth when he lays down the solo that gives him iconic status.
But in 1973, March suffers from an overdose. Our man McCoy is kind of on the case, but he’s also on another case, or set of cases: bank robberies. And he’s also doing a bit of work off the books for his mentor Murray. And he’s been bounced off the main case gripping Glasgow, a missing teenager, because of an ongoing feud with his current boss. All of these cases intertwine, a little, because McCoy, despite being a straight polis, has a network of friends and acquaintances who are big in gangland, or are dealers, or madams. There’s a bunch of paramilitaries, too, and a day trip to Belfast at the height of the Troubles.
There are a few things that stood out for me from this novel. First, there’s a matter-of-factness about the presentation of the seamier side of Glasgow life. The descriptions are graphic, but never glamorous. Second, threads are picked up and discarded all the time. I loved this aspect of the book. Not for McCoy a case that comes in and gets solved with a twist, a few wry asides as we go a nice little closing scene. Here we’ve got cases all over the shop. McCoy closes a few, not always truthfully. Parks gives us readers some closure just to round out the story, but the Glasgow polis finds closure only at the bottom of a glass of Bell’s. Somehow these loose ends feel far more realistic than your standard ending.
Best of all, there’s McCoy himself, a bundle of contradictions. Best friends to a gangland kingpin, ex of a drug dealer, but alongside sidekick Wattie he’s the most moral man on the force, breaking the nose of a senior officer whom he suspects of having been the main cause of a suicide. Along these streets he walks alone, but he’s a fantastic creation. The point of this kind of thriller is that we know that he will prevail. But we need to have built up enough regard for the character to fear that he might not, and to want to know exactly how he gets out of the various attempts on his life. This we get – and in a few weeks’ time we will on this blog feature the next in the series. Unlike Bobby March, Harry McCoy may live forever.
Thanks to Blackthorn Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.