The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas by David F Ross

VespasThe Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas transports us back to 1980’s Ayrshire and it is good to be back. This is the second novel in the Disco Days trilogy by David Ross and although it does not pick up directly from The Last Days of Disco it does overlap, this time delving deeper into the lives of the local criminal element, whilst also charting the magical journey to immortality of a local band and their erratic manager.

Whilst Bobby Cassidy merely skirts around the edges of this latest tale, the key elements of David Ross’s writing remain to the fore. The novel is very much character driven and Ross continues to paint colourful, messy pictures with the people who populate his books. Perhaps messiest of them all is Max Mojo, the alter ego of gangster’s son Dale Wishart, and the driving force behind the Vespas.

High as a kite throughout the book, from prescribed as well as recreational drugs, as he recovers from a severe beating dished out in the last instalment, Mojo sets out to chase his dreams as a manager. The sheer force of his nature takes others with him including the genuinely talented Grant Delgado. It’s an unpredictable and hilarious ride as the teenage Mojo curses his way through the local and national music industry in a surprisingly endearing manner.

Meanwhile Kilmarnock is emerging as the location for a turf war. Notorious gangster Malachy McLarty is looking to spread his influence beyond Glasgow and the three main local families, along with the chief of police, are getting ready for trouble. The genius of Ross is that he can tread the lines between some pretty gritty realism, laugh out loud humour and emotional empathy. It really shouldn’t be possible to laugh during a scene in which a man is killed with a crossbow but somehow a smile creeps onto your face (maybe I shouldn’t have said that out loud).

As with Disco, all of the characters have a depth that means they cannot be put in a box. The way that Fat Franny Duncan cares for his dementia suffering mum may at first glance seem like a gangster cliche, but without wanting to give anything away, it leads to a beautifully poignant postscript to the story of a local criminal overlord. Whilst in a book full of nostalgic musical nods, the band’s emotionally scarred drummer, Maggie, brings to my mind a more modern reference point in Frank Turner’s Tell Tale Signs and the tenderness of her relationship with Grant is soaked in warm compassion.

In my review of his debut I wrote that David Ross “demonstrates a gift for expressing life that surely has more to give” and it is good to have that prediction come true in his second offering. You don’t have to have read Last Days in order to enjoy the Vespas but you really don’t want to miss out on either of them and I recommend you get them both read before the final part of this charming trilogy is released. Boy George might be unaware of the part he played in the rise of the Miraculous Vespas but he is surely poorer for that.

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The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross

DiscoI grew into The Last Days of Disco the further I read. At first the setting and especially the language presented a barrier but by the end it was simply a part of these characters that I had grown to care about. David Ross draws you into the lives of the Cassidy family and their neighbours, you share their triumphs and defeats, so that whilst in some ways nothing much happens in others everything matters.

This is a social commentary about a time when the young were by turns labelled useless wasters and national heroes, unemployment statistics one day, intrepid explorers sent to kill for their flag the next. Yet it is also the simple story of a group of people doing what we all do, trying to make the best of the hand they have been dealt, however bum the deal, and by fair means or foul.

The main thrust comes from Bobby and his mate Joey who decide to set up a mobile disco. This dream brings them inadvertently into competition with the local gangster and japes ensue, comic and otherwise. As the teenagers strive to make a success of their fledgling business other lives around them are falling apart, sending ripples into every corner of their community.

Each of the characters rolls with the punches, trying to make some headway and escape whatever shackles have been placed on them, but they do it with a humour and hope that binds the reader to them. The laughs come thick and fast but so does the heartbreak. There are genuinely laugh out loud on the bus moments alongside deeply moving scenes, whether it’s Bobby reaching out to a disgraced performer with an empathy that belies his years, his older brother facing up to the brutal realities of war, his sister retreating into the sanctuary of herself or the gangster’s muscle trying to find a way to honour the love he has lost.

This is David Ross’s first novel but he demonstrates a gift for expressing life that surely has more to give. There is a real empathy for people of all kinds in the pages, there are “good” people doing bad things and “bad” people doing good things, because people are not good or bad they are just people dealing with what is in front of them, imperfectly. This book is worth reading for that truth alone, but it also takes you on an emotional journey that reminds you what it is to be human, a fabulous debut.

 

The Last Days of Disco is available as e-book now and will be published in paperback on 15 March 2015.