THE RISE AND FALL OF THE MIRACULOUS VESPAS

David F. Ross

(Orenda, £8.99)

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Many of you will remember David F Ross’s 2015 novel, The Last Days Of Disco, in which the fortunes of two young men trying to earn a living running a mobile disco were tangled up with the rivalries between Ayrshire’s competing crime families. His new book picks up from where the last one left off, only, rather than a mobile disco, the subject is a band, which is being bankrolled by money that went missing in the previous book.

This is the story of The Miraculous Vespas, who scored a surprise smash hit in 1984 before an abrupt and messy break-up. A documentary is being made, and their manager, the coarse and somewhat bitter Max Mojo, is being interviewed about his side of the story.

Max Mojo was formerly known as Dale Wishart, the son of a money launderer, and after a severe beating in The Last Days Of Disco, he emerged from a coma with a new personality and the plan to reinvent himself as a legendary pop manager in the mould of Andrew Loog Oldham or Malcolm McLaren. Dressed in gear that looks outlandish even for the ‘80s, he puts together The Miraculous Vespas and does whatever he feels necessary to make them successful.

Meanwhile, there’s a fragile detente between Ayrshire’s three crime families in the face of the dreaded McLarty gang from Glasgow threatening to muscle in on their patch. The list of principal players at the front of the book is useful in this regard, as there are a lot of them and it would otherwise take a while to be sure who was working for whom. In any case, most of our attention ends up being focused on the band themselves: Grant Delgado, who turns out to be an unexpectedly good songwriter and frontman; his lover, drummer Maggie Abernethy, a black woman who spent her childhood moving from one foster family to another and consequently has trust issues; the Sylvester brothers, Simon, who can’t resist picking a pocket or two, and Eddie, who develops such bad agoraphobia that he can only appear in public in a racing driver’s helmet, like a prototype Stig. All have parents who died, which helps bond them into a unit.

It’s very sweary, often funny (their early gig supporting a dodgy hypnotist is the stuff of legend) and the strong cast of characters throbs with positivity and humanity. Even small-time gangster Fat Franny Duncan succeeds in evoking a measure of sympathy.

Ross dedicates the book to “Bobby, who inadvertently planted the seed”, and on the Orenda Books website one can find a recording of The Miraculous Vespas’ hit single, written especially by Robert Hodgens, aka Bobby Bluebell, whose band, The Bluebells, had a massive hit in 1984, just like the Vespas. This little bonus treat is typical of the care and effort Ross is putting into his Kilmarnock Trilogy, and if the final book is up to the same standard he will have carved out an enduring place for himself among contemporary Scottish novelists.

ALASTAIR MABBOTT