BOOK REVIEW: Scouse Gothic
– By Zombie Rob
A 200 year old vampire, a hitman, a gangster, a homicidal old lady, a bereft & mourning gentleman, all on the piss/pull/hunt in a city that I’m all too familiar with. Yep, I’m IN!!!
The book opens as our principal, Melville, wakes in his flat with a thick head and a familiar metallic taste in his mouth. Turns out he’s dropped quite a clanger and the remains of his late night snack need to be disposed of. Firstly though, he needs a straightner to dampen his hangover. As he walks through Liverpool towards an acceptable inn or tavern, snatches of his history and his background flash back to him. The grand buildings and walkways evoke powerful memories of previous adventures spanning decades and decades, centuries even, and we’re given a glimpse of just how old Melville is and some of the struggles he’s seen as a man, and as a vampire. The city is very different now but the narratives remain the same – hunger, self loathing, surrender to his basest instincts, loss of life….
An ordinary man waits invisibly in the shadows of broad daylight, dressed in a reeking old coat to ensure passing eyes avert and hurry on by, waiting for his moment to end a life. For utterly different reasons to Melville, but the end result will be the same. What brings these people to the city? What is here for them? Scouse Gothic is actually a portmanteau of 4 seemingly disparate stories. The four protagonists of which inhabit the same location at roughly the same time. Their narratives occasionally graze each other, occasionally crash full-face into each other but all remain linked by the city of Liverpool. And this is important because this metropolis is as much a character in this book as any of the people we encounter.
It’s very easy for those with a close bond to the place to become all wistfully nostalgic and misty-eyed as they reminisce and yearn for the glory days of a Hard Day’s Night and Ferrying ‘Cross The Mersey. This was once the most important port in the country, at a time when the country was probably the most important in the world and the buildings have such grandeur that no-one is left in any doubt of the city’s historical success. The people are wonderful – funny, triumphantly inappropriate at times, kind and generous, welcoming and warm.
However, the city also has it’s imperfections, flaws and darkness. It’s been battered and assaulted by Nazi bombs, socio-economics, Derek Hatton’s militant and deceitful corruption and the Sheffield police. It’s had its times of adolescent self-harm with strikes, infamous civil unrest and Joey Barton duffing people up on CCTV. Scousers themselves will always make you piss yourself laughing but there’s always a faint chance you’ll also get battered within the same sentence. As with any major conurbation, wherever you are in the world, the place will delight and appall – and this is exactly what Ian McKinney has done with his characters.
Melville, for instance, along with his newly acquired and equally sanguiphilic new bird Sheryl, are appealing. They’re funny and wise, they’re human and likeable, they drink in the same pubs as I have but you still cannot avoid that they drain the innocent of their most vital fluid until they die.
The Hitman is so achingly normal that it could be any of us. If he asked, I’d help him push his car, without question. I wouldn’t hesitate to give him a pound if he was in the supermarket queue in front of me and was a bit short when it came to paying. Again though, regardless of how affable and inoffensive he actually is, I can’t excuse the fact he kills people for money.
This is the strength of Ian McKinney’s writing – he presents us with characters that are sociopathic, savage, brutal gobshites that kill and harm purely for their own benefit but Ian portrays them with such empathy and reality, he makes us like them. The city of Liverpool does exactly the same thing – its entire ambiance is benevolent and fun, it will ensure that you’re fed and watered with a huge grin plastered to your face. It’ll impress and daunt with the ostentatious austerity of its buildings – but will tell you under a cough that while a lot of the prosperity was brought with every bale of cotton, tea, gold, spices that passed through its docks, some of it was also profit from the dreadful and almost unspeakable shadow of slavery.
Ian McKinney clearly loves this city very much but never shies away from the ugliness that equally measures the beauty. He perfectly uses and balances the symbiosis between the characters and the backdrop of Liverpool, using both good and bad to help us identify with them. None of us, of course, are vampires or hitmen but we’re definitely not perfect. Throw in a sweeping historical saga, compelling and engaging stories, some hard core vengeance, high-end violence and buckets of lovely claret and it’s the equation of a bloody good yarn.
Thankfully, Scouse Gothic is a trilogy, so there’s at least another two books for me to stick my face in. I WANT to find out what happens to my new gang, I want to see if they’re OK, I want bodies to fall at their feet every 9 pages, and I wanna go on the piss in Liverpool right now!!