February's Son
PublisherCanongate Books
Date Published31 January 2019
 
 
ISBN-101786891387
ISBN-13978-1786891389
Formathardcover
Pages368
Price£ 12.99

February's Son

by Alan Parks

Detective Harry McCoy of the Glasgow police is not long returned to duty when he is called out by his Chief inspector, Murray, to view a body found on the roof of a 14-storey tower block. The body, showing obvious signs of torture, turns out to be that of a well-known Celtic footballer.


Review

February’s Son is set in Glasgow in the early 1970s and is scarcely an advertisement for the city. It is February – the worst month of the year – bitterly cold and always raining except when it is snowing. Virtually every other building seems to be a pub, each of which reeks of tobacco smoke or worse. There are drunks and beggars on the street, desperate for help, but not receiving any.

Detective Harry McCoy is not long returned to duty when he is called out by Chief inspector Murray, to view a body found on the roof of a 14-storey tower block. The body, showing obvious signs of torture, turns out to be that of a well-known Celtic footballer.

It soon becomes clear that the murdered man's name is Charlie Jackson. Harry informs Murray that the footballer was about to be married to Elaine, the daughter of Jake Scobie, a feared Glasgow gang leader. Whilst the motive for the murder is unclear, there is sufficient reason to cause the police to look at Scobie as in some way connected with the crime, though it is hard to see why he should choose to kill his daughter’s fiancé, particularly one as universally popular as Jackson.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to look in his direction for clues to the killing. There is a very tense interview with Scobie and his lawyer, Lomax, which, whilst it does not implicate Scobie, provides them with an even greater incentive for investigating the Scobie-Jackson relationship.

As the story progresses it is interrupted by brief passages of italic text which clearly represent the thoughts of the murderer and lend weight to the theory that there is a connection with Scobie.

The description of the subsequent investigation is detailed but never in any sense slow. It involves an apparently unrelated suicide and a hugely dramatic incident as DC Watson, McCoy's colleague, attempts to rescue a man from drowning and is himself almost drowned in the process. There are other bursts of excitement, which seem to derive naturally from the investigation itself and are not introduced merely to grab the reader's attention.

Meanwhile, although playing a full part in the search for the murderer, McCoy finds reason to pursue his own agenda as details of his childhood are disclosed and we begin to understand why he has such a close connection with another of Glasgow's major gangland criminals. Now and again we see another side of him when he takes an interest in a gang member who is little more than a boy and tries to show him that, even in the slums of Glasgow, there are other ways to live. This kind of concern for the poor is rare, though the novel does not, of course, pretend to be a social documentary.

There is a feeling throughout that events are pointing to an explosive ending and the writer does not disappoint. In fact, not only is it gripping, it is also hugely inventive.

One aspect of the novel that may not please all readers is the extent to which the f-word is used. It must occur literally hundreds of times and, whilst one might expect it from the criminal elements, the police – even the senior ranks – are equally guilty, assuming that is the right word. Whatever one may feel about this, there is no denying that it becomes a little tedious. This is a pity because it may put some people off what is an absorbing and well-plotted novel.

Reviewed 30 March 2019 by Arnold Taylor