Glasgow, 1973. Bobby March, contrary to this novel’s title, is dead. Having overdosed in his hotel room, the fading rock star will now never have a chance to debut previously unreleased demo tapes, his last gasp at a comeback. His death is completely overshadowed, however, by the fact that a thirteen year old girl has gone missing. Alice Kelly’s name and picture are plastered on every newspaper, on lamp posts and shop windows. Pointed questions tumble from the lips of journalists and concerned citizens in the direction of whichever police officer happens to be nearest. Harry McCoy, our protagonist, is not assigned to Alice’s case. He has been unceremoniously and maliciously demoted to robberies by his superior, and professional nemesis, DS Bernie Raeburn. While investigating Raeburn’s leftovers, wearing his lack of interest proudly on his sleeve, McCoy is pulled aside by Chief Inspector Murray and asked to covertly investigate the disappearance of his niece. Her father, hoping to run for a councillor position, has demanded the rapid and discreet return of his daughter – but McCoy finds that she is not so eager to be reunited with her family, preferring Glasgow’s greasy underbelly to her own sheltered background.
Four cases, all unrelated, shoved into one novel. Statistically, with Bobby March standing at just over 350 pages, that leaves only 87 pages for each case, and that’s without me including both the predictable-for-crime love interest side plot and the junkie best friend side plot. At least the robberies are low enough on McCoy’s list of priorities to be safely eschewed from the reader’s immediate memory, freeing up more precious space. Alan Parks does an excellent job in keeping the three major plot points current, the cases interlacing with a natural fluidity. McCoy being privy to so much sensitive information regarding the cases, often coming by it by mistake and before everyone else, feels less organic. For an allegedly gritty and realistic crime novel, the twists and turns of Bobby March require more suspension of belief than I am mistress of. The novel begins to feel the limits of its word count by its latter stages, with major events tumbling over each other with strangely comic effect. The final act almost reminded me of Hot Fuzz, of Nicholas Angel’s exasperated “pack it in, Frank, you silly bastard!” upon the discovery of yet another bad guy out to derail the incoming conclusion. Sadly, we lack Edgar Wright’s self awareness to turn an uncomfortable laugh into an impressed one.
Usually, the focal point of any crime series is not necessarily an overarching storyline, but the protagonist. Harry McCoy is an embodiment of polarity, one who refuses to take bribes but will condemn a man to death in order to save his own skin; one who apparently drinks a lot but also never seems to be drunk; a hardened noir detective who also throws up and cries when kidnapped. He’s also very old, if the novel is to be believed. So old that it’s referenced consistently throughout the narrative. I would have no issue with this – I quite enjoy reading about gruff older detectives, ones who play more fatherly roles instead of their more common counterparts who average on one generic sex object of a woman per book – if only it were true. Get a slip of paper ready, and write down what you would say to be old by your estimation. Fold it up, and read on.
Harry McCoy is thirty.
Now that we’re all suitably confused, let us conclude our thoughts on our apparently geriatric main character. McCoy, on paper, has the makings of a subversive protagonist, one who could drag the more picky of us over to the supporting side of crime novels. In practice, I found myself underwhelmed. In fact, I found McCoy more cowardly than imposing, more nondescript than unique. It struck me throughout the novel that I had absolutely no image in my mind of what McCoy looked like, sounded like, or even how he would act in hypothetical situations. Comparatively, I can picture Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery or Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope without much effort, despite having only read a couple of their serials. McCoy certainly has potential, but a protagonist on his third novel instalment should be beyond mere potential. His character, and consequently this series, would certainly benefit from a plumping up in terms of development.
Bobby March Will Live Forever may err on the side of silliness at times, and may posit that thirty is the new eighty, but it certainly has its charms. This would be an ideal book to sit down with for some needed thrills on an otherwise dull afternoon, with its barrage of excitement making for a pleasurable reading experience.
Any Cop?: if you’re a fan of hardboiled crime fiction who wants something slightly less generic without throwing yourself into a literary deep end, give this series a try.