The April Dead by Alan Parks

March 25, 2021

Please note, The April Dead is the fourth Harry McCoy novel. Though these novels can be viewed as standalone works I would suggest beginning with book one, Bloody January. With that in mind, the review that follows may contain a mild spoiler or two if you haven’t started there. Consider yourselves suitably warned.

When an American sailor from the Holy Loch Base goes missing, Harry McCoy is determined to find him. But as he investigates, a wave of bombings hits Glasgow – with the threat of more to come. Soon McCoy realises that the sailor may be part of a shadowy organisation committed to a very different kind of Scotland. One they are prepared to kill for.

Meanwhile Cooper, McCoy’s long-time criminal friend, is released from jail and convinced he has a traitor in his midst. As allies become enemies, Cooper has to fight for his position and his life. He needs McCoy to do something for him. Something illegal.

McCoy is running out of time to stop another bomb, save himself from the corrupt forces who want to see him fail and save the sailor from certain death. But McCoy discovers a deeper, darker secret – the sailor is not the first young man to go missing in April.

Alan Parks latest Harry McCoy crime thriller has arrived, and the good news is, it is another absolute blinder. The April Dead picks up in 1974 and Glasgow’s reputation for being a dangerously violent city is splashed across the pages of every tabloid newsletter. The last thing the authorities need is the threat of bombs being added into the mix. Harry and Wattie are tasked with discovering the truth behinds the bombings. Are the sectarian troubles of Ireland finding their way to Scotland’s shores, or is there something else afoot? Meanwhile, Harry has to also deal with a missing person and the continued rise of Steve Cooper.

The constant pressure of police work is beginning to take a physical toll on Harry. The vast number of cigarettes and copious amounts of alcohol probably don’t help either. Probably not the best coping mechanism I’d imagine. It’s true that Harry remains as tenacious as ever but there are signs he is starting to unravel. Chasing down villains consumes Harry, and without that, he doesn’t know who he is. I think there may even be a part of him that doesn’t want to know. I like these little introspective moments where we get to see exactly what going on in Harry’s head. It really humanises him and adds genuine depth to the character. It’s one of the reasons I know I’m going to read every novel featuring this detective as long as Alan Parks continues to write them*.

I’m really enjoying the continued evolution of his character. Harry’s best friend/raising star of the criminal underworld is the perfect counterpoint to our protagonist. Copper exhibits a ruthless cunning paired with barely contained sociopathic tendencies. His attitude towards any potential competition is to deal with them in a brutally efficient manner. Cooper is always up to some scheme or another and Harry often finds himself having to deal with the fallout. Once again it makes me wonder just how long Harry is going to put up with Cooper’s actions. The direction each of the men are going in suggests that the boyhood friends are going to end up having to face off against one another eventually. The irony is that, outside of police work, Cooper is about the only constant in Harry’s life. You can tell Stevie Cooper is a great character because whenever he doesn’t appear in a scene you want to know what he is up to.

The April Dead feels like the darkest Harry McCoy novel to date. The subject matter starts simply enough but gets grimmer and grimmer as the narrative unfolds. It makes for a suitably tense read. Harry finds himself in a race against time and the final chapters are particularly nerve-wracking. We are also starting to see evidence of a larger story beginning to take shape. There are enough loose ends to ensure events in this novel are going to be referenced again in the future.

From my perspective, I think we’ve reached the point where Harry deserves to make the leap from page to screen. Gritty police drama set in bustling nineteen seventies Glasgow. Booze, drugs, violence and a lead character who is a bit of a mess–what’s not to love? It would make for perfect television; I’d certainly watch it. The only question I need answering – who would play Harry? Time to get my thinking cap on.

I came to these novels a bit late. I only read book three, Bobby March Will Live Forever, last month. In one respect that’s great news. I’ve only had to wait a few weeks to get my hands on the latest instalment. Now I’m going to have to wait an undetermined length of time until book five arrives. I’m not sure I can cope! Especially after that ending.

Kudos to Alan Parks for his work with this series. He continues to do a great job of bringing the darker side of Glasgow to life. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of these novels and I’m pleased to see them go from strength to strength. Each new Harry McCoy novel has successfully expanded on its predecessor. The cast of recurring characters grow and flesh out Harry’s world and the plots are never anything less than riveting.

The April Dead is published by Canongate and is available now. Highly recommended.

My musical recommendation to accompany The April Dead is the rock and blues marvel that is Thunderbox by Humble Pie. Pairing each new Harry McCoy novel with an album from the same year the book is set in just feels right. Part of me can imagine Harry popping this album onto a turntable, pouring himself a whisky, lighting up a cigarette and drifting off in his favourite chair while the music washes over him. I know, I’m an old sentimentalist at heart.

*Based on the titles so far, I figure we have at least another eight books to go. I am totally ok with that.


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