Christmas Eve. You might be stuck for that last-minute gift. Something for the lover of crime fiction. A fan of the police procedural. If you are, you’ll be glad you checked in here, because Bloody January offers you the perfect solution.
I was lucky enough to meet Alan Parks at Newcastle Noir earlier this year, where we appeared together with Paul Heatley and Tony Hutchinson. Not only is Alan a lovely unassuming guy, his answers were a treat to listen to.
Anyway, when I began Bloody January (US), the pressure was on. I wanted to like it because of that Newcastle connection, not to mention the soya latte he bought me.
I needn’t have worried. Bloody January is a terrific read. A real belter that never stops giving.
We’re in Glasgow during the early seventies. It’s a city packed with history and nostalgia. It’s tough and gritty with cold hands and a warm heart. It’s influenced by the rivalries of gangs, religions and class, is coming to terms with the rights of women and turbulence in the political climate, is embracing change without any real plan and is about to be hit by the scourge of heroin. Parks does a great job of recreating the period and part of the fun for me was being reminded of the way things were before the arrival of the internet and the mobile phone among other things.
Our protagonist McCoy is a real star creation. He’s a total mess. The kind of copper who could only exist in a time that hadn’t heard of political correctness. He straddles the worlds of crime and law-enforcement as if there’s nothing to distinguish between them and is as home in the drinking whisky in a brothel as he is sipping tea down at the station. He was born into a difficult situation, was taken into care to protect him from his alcoholic father and only managed to survive his childhood thanks to his mate Cooper. Cooper has grown into the nastiest of villains. He’s a hard headed gangster with no obvious moral compass and no boundaries to speak of. There’s nothing he won’t do to hold onto power as he jets off on drug-fuelled binges of violence.
The book opens with a visit from McCoy to the prison. He learns from an inmate that a young woman is going to be killed the next day, All McCoy has to go on is a name and an occupation, so he has his work cut out to prevent the murder from taking place.
When the police fail in their efforts to save the girl, it’s not so much a can of worms that is opened as a jar of vipers. The police uncover a world of sexual violence and exploitation with undertones of witchcraft and links to one of the wealthiest families in the land. The predators are out of control and it’s only McCoy’s determination to bring down the whole stinking pile and that keeps the case alive.
It’s a brilliant read. There’s moral ambiguity everywhere. The bit parts are as well-crafted as the main players. The city is populated by underdogs. The writing style is tight and uncluttered. Conversation is bang to the point. Every action follows strong motivation. The case is far from straightforward and barriers are thrown down at many a turn. It's brutal, dark and uncompromising and the pages practically turn themselves.
This is seriously good fiction, perfect for any dark December evening. February’s Son and Bobby March Will Live Forever are definitely on my list for 2020. And if you ever feel like a coffee over on the east coast, Mr Parks, it’s definitely my round.