May God Forgive by Alan Parks

April 28, 2022

Please note, May God Forgive is the fifth book in an ongoing series. If you have not read books one to four then what follows may contain some minor spoilers. Consider yourself duly warned!

Glasgow is a city in mourning. An arson attack on a hairdresser’s has left five dead. Tempers are frayed and sentiments running high.

When three youths are charged the city goes wild. A crowd gathers outside the courthouse but as the police drive the young men to prison, the van is rammed by a truck, and the men are grabbed and bundled into a car. The next day, the body of one of them is dumped in the city centre. A note has been sent to the newspaper: one down, two to go.

Detective Harry McCoy has twenty-four hours to find the kidnapped boys before they all turn up dead, and it is going to mean taking down some of Glasgow’s most powerful people to do it . . .

Like many cities of the time, mid-1970s Glasgow is a chaotic melting pot. The staunchly traditional sits side by side with the ultra-modern. Harry McCoy has to try and navigate these turbulent streets and understand why a hairdressers, of all places, has been burnt to the ground. Pubs, drug dens, bookies and shebeens are all obvious targets, but a hair salon?  Needless to say, there is far more to this crime than first appears. 

You might think that now we’ve reached book five in this series, Harry McCoy’s character is pretty well established. That there is nothing new we could discover. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Alan Parks still manages to deftly weave key elements of Harry’s history into the narrative. We learn more about Harry’s father and there is also a heart-breaking revelation that adds a whole new layer of depth to the charismatic but broken detective.  

Harry has reached the stage where he can barely function if he is not working. The drugs, the booze, the violence and the trauma of his younger years are creating a perfect storm within. It reads to me like there is a destructive streak running through him, he is almost seeking oblivion. The only thing keeping Harry tethered to a normal life is his job.  

Everyone’s favourite charismatic gangland bampot, Stevie Cooper, makes an appearance. He doesn’t feature quite as much as in previous novels, but Cooper still has a key role to play. Even though he is an out and out sociopath, there is a matter of fact bluntness to Cooper’s character I can’t help but enjoy*

As with its predecessors, May God Forgive gets pretty bleak at times. There is a fine line between justice and vengeance, and I think it is fair to say that at times that fine line gets more than a little blurred. Parks pulls no punches exploring the underbelly of a city that has a long-held reputation for violence. 

The Harry McCoy novels have evolved into far more than just your standard crime thrillers, they are twisted love letters to the dark heart of a city. Everyone that I’ve read so far has been damn near perfect. Long may they continue.

May God Forgive is published by Canongate and is available now. Highly recommended.

As has become traditional with this series my musical recommendation to accompany the book is year specific to when events take place. We’ve reached 1974 so I’ve decided to go with a classic slice of Scottish rock and roll. The Impossible Dream by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band feels like the ideal companion soundtrack to the novel. I always like to go with something I think Harry would appreciate. 

*Hmm, that probably says more about me than I care to think about.

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