Fans of Alan Parks's grim, gritty and somehow reliably funny Harry McCoy thrillers will be unsurprised to learn that the hard-drinking, speed-taking Glasgow detective is a terrible patient. May God Forgive, the topping good fifth entry in the calendrically titled series that begins with Bloody January, finds McCoy freshly sprung from the hospital, where he was recovering from a bleeding ulcer. Doctors have prescribed another month of bed rest: "No work, no stress, no smoking and no drinking." McCoy is determined to bat oh for four.
On May 20, 1974, his first day back on the job, McCoy watches a lorry smash into a police van that carries three prisoners, adolescent boys who had set fire to a hair salon and are being charged with murder. The boys are whisked away in a car after the crash. Was this a rescue or a hijack? McCoy's boss wants him to sniff around to find out who put the lads up to starting the fire, telling him: "For once you have my permission to go and have a chat with all the low-level chancers you call your pals."
Alternating between swigging booze and Pepto-Bismol, McCoy faces a barrage of adversarial forces, including turf-warring criminals, Glasgow's punishing rain and, as usual, himself. May God Forgive is a fleet, dialogue-powered, satisfying story full of all the violence and depravity that readers have come to expect from Parks. But the novel's most devastating scenes involve McCoy's personal history, which his work won't do him the courtesy of letting him forget. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer