The Last Days of Disco
David F Ross
Orenda Books, 2014 (e), 2015 (pb)
One of the nice things about writing reviews is people offering me books that are outside my usual reading range. I tend to be fairly SFF and crime focussed, and without diligent friends (thank you, Liz!) sifting and suggesting it would too easy to miss nuggets like this.
Set in at the unfashionable end of the 1980s (which, I hear you ask is that? The beginning, of course, when 1984 hadn't happened and we all thought that if we just closed our eyes the 70s would be back) the action takes place in South West Scotland, mainly following the lives of a couple of schoolboys trying to make it as mobile DJs for local discos.
Unfortunately for Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller, the Ayrshire disco scene (as well as several others) is already owned by "Fat" Franny Duncan, a small time gangster who doesn't want any competition. As the boys innocently(?) try to muscle in on his turf, while coping with girls, family problems and schoolwork, events threaten to get out of control.
Meantime, at the other event of the world, events definitely HAVE got out of control as Britain and Argentina fight the most unexpected war of the last century for possession of the Falkland Islands (which nobody in the UK had heard of beforehand: I can remember the sense of surprise on learning of their existence, let alone that they had been invaded). Bobby is directly affected: his beloved elder brother, Gary, recently joined the Army and is soon on his way south.
It's a strong premise and Ross handles the two threads skilfully, stepping backwards and forwards to follow the disco conflict through the local corridors of power. Strings are pulled, favours - desired or not - delivered and, after a particularly hilarious (and disastrous) evening at the local Conservative Club, Bobby, Joey and their roadie are left at the mercy of a (slightly bent) local police chief, who has history with Bobby's father. I enjoyed the way that the author steps back or sideways, as it were, to sketch in some family history or point the significance of a passing character: perhaps in places this could have been a bit more show, a bit less tell, but these episodes (for example, the story of how Bobby's parents met at a Hogmanay dance 20 years before) add depth and humanity to his characters
And always, always there is the music, a stream in which Bobby and Joey live, move and have their being. Rather as Jonathan Coe does with the 70s in "The Rotters' Club", Ross celebrates the music of the early 80s through the commitment and passion of Bobby and Joey to their favoured bands. I think there's always a risk in writing about someone who has such passion - will it leave the non-believers cold? - but Ross easily brings it off.
Is the book perfect? No. There are moments where we only ever hear half the story - for example, Bobby and Gary wake from an almighty drinking session at the start of the book during which Bobby has picked up Fat Franny's phone number, and something else. Given subsequent events this seems pretty important, but we never hear exactly what happened, or all the consequences. Maybe this is something that Ross is saving for a sequel? I do hope so, because I'm sure there's a lot more to be said about these characters...
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