Reviewed by: Ryan Bracha
Genre: General Fiction
Approximate word count: 70,000 – 75,000 words
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David Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964. He is married with two children and has lived in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire for over 30 years. His most prized possession is a signed Joe Strummer LP. The Last Days of Disco is his first novel.
It's early 1982 and young Bobby Cassidy has a dream, to be a part of the premiere mobile disco in Kilmarnock, Scotland. He and his ragtag gang of Joey, Hamish and Jimmy embark upon a trip to the very top, the pinnacle of which is to be a residency at big time gangster 'Doc' Martin's forthcoming nightclub. However, what stands in their way is 'Fat' Franny Duncan, another local gangster with a monopolized stranglehold on the party entertainments scene, and his own ragtag gang of inept performers. Elsewhere his brother Gary has joined the army, just at a time where the threat of war with Argentina looms, and his family struggles to keep it together as secrets from the past bubble beneath the surface.
I have a strange affinity with Scottish authors, especially Christopher Brookmyre and Irvine Welsh. I find that they write with an honesty that just seems to shine through, and I love the challenge of deciphering the way they write the dialect and colloquialisms, which they achieve like no other nationality of author. My experience with this debut by David Ross was no different.
The Last Days Of Disco is a curious little beast. It starts out as an affectionate glimpse at life in a working class Scottish town where our protagonists have little to worry about except the possibilty of being a victim of random violence from local hard-men, and flatulent friends, then turns into an emotional and thought provoking commentary on the effects of a pointless war, and families yearning for the respect of each other. The effectiveness of which took me a little by surprise.
The opening scene where Bobby is literally dreaming of car racing glory but ends in him inadvertently fondling his brother as they share a bed had me chuckling out loud, and throughout the whole of the book these little nuggets of comedy gold resurface time and again. In The Last Days of Disco, David Ross displays a knack of reminding us of the minor pleasures we took as people growing up in Britain in the eighties, Subbuteo being the most prominent for this reader, then gleans a great deal of humour in the context that he remembers it in. The dialogue and thought processes of the younger characters are both believable, and accurate, displaying a great insight into the naive and curious minds of teenagers making their own entertainment in a time long before these days of iPads, mobile telephones, and wireless broadband connections.
So then, in the midst of all of this affection, the threat of overseas combat looms large, as Ross brings in extracts from our Parliament of the time, the larger than life character of Margaret Thatcher (which seems extremely topical, given her recent passing) attempting to justify her cabinet's actions. In Gary Cassidy, Bobby's elder brother, we are given an insight into the hearts, minds and fears of inexperienced young men thrown into the midst of war, and the lack of discernible communications. The family starts to show cracks, Bobby's mother is increasingly absent minded, his father battles demons which go back longer than he cares to remember, and the youngest of the family, Hettie, struggles to hold it together as Bobby's coping mechanism is to disappear and try to take his mind from the events which unfold.
I really enjoyed this book, and the effective manner in which David Ross controls the humour, emotion, and tragedy in equal measures. His characters are likeable, the comedy moments are genuinely funny, and the emotion isn't over the top or exaggerated. This is a high quality, extremely well drawn, and assured debut from this new author. Highly recommended.
Some adult language.
Rating: ***** Five Stars