July 1976 in Glasgow. It’s a tough place to be, when Archie is “a stoical son of Glasgow; an unrequited optimist”, but also a man with many problems. After all, this is a place of casual violence, when fights can break out over a look, an unintended slight. The streets, the houses, the tenements, nowhere is truly safe for the young, the old, those who are different, even those who are the same. Poverty in some respects is the norm, yet there are those who dream of being rich, if only for a short time. Beer, betting and the grey economy are all around. Women out live the men, but they can still be endangered if certain men choose. This is not a society for the nervous and that is reflected in the language of this book, where the local dialect, slang and ways of speaking are accurately recorded. The rhythms of the street dominate the narrative, as Archie and others chase dreams, or at least try to survive. I was very interested to receive a copy of this book to read and review.
Archie is a bus conductor. While that would be a fairly mundane and safe job in many cities, in Glasgow the upstairs of the bus is the office and receiving room for those who owe money or debts that are less well defined. When a justifiably nervous acquaintance, Bobby Souness jumps through the emergency window, Archie gives chase in a decision that will change his life. Meanwhile WPC Barbara Sherman has discovered that being the only woman in a police station is not an easy thing when she is ordered to become the personal protection officer of an MP’s wife. The MP, Big Jamie Campbell, is also in the sights of Gail Proctor, a young woman who is determined to discover his exact involvement in the death of her uncle. When Archie is made unemployed with a father who is rapidly becoming more confused, he realises that he must raise not only enough money to survive but also support his care. He becomes a driver for the dangerous Wigwam, and it is while accompanying a celebrity that he inadvertently saves him from a dangerous encounter. As hints of a dangerous conspiracy emerge throughout the underworld of the East End of Glasgow, Archie suddenly discovers an ambition to take a group to London to win an “Opportunity Knocks” type programme, a fast track to fame and fortune. While WPC Sherman discovers that something is amiss with young men who disappear in mysterious circumstances, Proctor finds merely living in a crumbling room is dangerous. As the tension mounts, danger becomes real, and only dark humour can save the situation. Fortunately “High Five” brings their own particular talents to the excursion, and the day may yet be saved.
Ross’ writing style is powerful in many ways, as black humour threads throughout the danger and squalor of a city in a heatwave. He has undoubtedly caught the mood of the time, as the financial pressures of the time dominate lives. No one is without hope, even if it is only to survive in a community where life is cheap. Ross shows great skill in creating comedy where life would otherwise be bleak, and hope where everyone is threatened. I found this book compelling and fascinating even when a little surprised by its bleakness, and darkly funny in many respects. Not for those of a nervous disposition, this is a well written book of lively images, determined descriptions and memorable characters.
This book is certainly a bit different from my next blog tour book – called “The Point of Poetry” ! I will be hoping to do at least one review then though! Having tried to sort out a few books to go yesterday, I realised just how long it takes! Certainly not a quick job – there are a lot of books in this house.