Alan Parks (2023) To Die in June.
Posted by celticman on Fri, 17 Nov 2023
I’ve read a few Alan Parks's novels. Don’t ask me which ones. I thought To Die in June had won the McIlvanney Prize, but it was his last Detective Harry McCoy novel. I’m a book or two behind. I continually use the same line when talking about McIlvanney’s Detective Laidlaw series; his aim wasn’t to solve the crime but to solve the world. Detective Harry McCoy is from the same mould.
‘Wisdom comes through suffering.’ Aeschylus.
I’m all for wisdom. Bring it on. A first-page preamble which becomes understandable by the end of the book but which I’d have cut.
Straight into the action. Wedneday 28th May 1975. The final pages, a week after Saturday 28th June 1975.
Detective Inspector Harry McCoy is being shipped across town to Possil Police station. The supposed reason is Glasgow is being merged into the larger Strathclyde Police (later merged into Police Scotland). The real reason is police corruption. He’s been sent to have a nosey about by Hector the Chief Constable who also happened to have adopted McCoy as a kid. Not even McCoy’s sidekick Wattie, Detective Watson knows about that and they’re thick as thieves. McCoy’s thick with a lot of thieves. He was brought up in children’s home. Cooper, his best mate is gangster, and McCoy owes him (that was in the last book, seemingly). Quid pro quo. Cooper is not one for letting go or bygones be bygones.
The inciting incident (or what happens) is Govan Jamie, an alky, is found dead on waste ground near Buchanan Street Bus Station. Nobody gives a fuck. Alkies die all the time.
But McCoy cares, because his da is an alky too. He’s out living on the streets. Because McCoy cares the reader cares too. If we don’t love our protagonist for his faults and failings there’s little point in turning the next page.
The leading storyline is the Govan Joe and then other alkies dying. Word from the street is their being poisoned. (I think this did happen in real life). McCoy’s on it. Because he’s on the case Phyllis in forensics (although it wasn’t called that then) has to look again at the sudden deaths of elderly male drinkers (men over fifty, that’s my age—that could be me and I want McCoy on the case).
A secondary storyline or plot is the disappearance of an eleven-year-old boy, Michael West. McCoy is quick to scramble all the cars and call in reinforcements from neighbouring cop shops. But his mum has what we now call mental-health issues. Reverend West of the local Church of Christ’s Suffering explains to McCoy he and his wife are childless. There’s something not right about her, but there’s also something not right about him and his cultish church.
I could tell you another couple of minor storylines that come together in a denouement that is emotionally satisfying as long as you don’t look too closely at the stitch in time. I’ll need to go backwards in time now and read The McIlvanney Prize Winner: May God Forgive. Read on.