If I’m not mistaken, Welcome to the Heady Heights is the author’s fourth novel with Orenda Books (I don’t know if he’s written anything else besides that), his previous three titles being the Disco Days trilogy. I have those on my kindle, but confess to not having read them yet, so Heady Heights was my first experience of this writer.
It’s 1970s Glasgow and Archie Blunt is an eternal optimist. He’s not exactly the most successful of people, having just lost his job on the busses with the Glasgow Corporation, having no real prospects to speak of, no family or relationships. He has some friends in a similar situation to himself and cares for his father who suffers with dementia. After getting a job as a driver with a local gangster and being given the task of chauffeuring around a leading figure in light entertainment, his dreams of a life in show business are ignited.
Hank “Heady” Heights hosts a television talent show. Titled Heady Heights, it’s a play on his name, egotistically allowing him to bestow on competitors the glory of soaring to the heights of celebrity. When Archie saves Hank from an irate husband, the impresario is in his debt. Archie leverages it in pursuit of his dreams and gets a shot at the show. He recruits a motley group of young men to form a band so that he can enter them as their manager. Nothing is that simple however and Archie soon finds himself out of his depth and in the midst of a sprawling conspiracy.
Set in the 1970s, this book tackles a number of issues that have since come to prominence, namely organised sexual abuse amongst the great and the good, in politics, business, law and show business. Jimmy Saville is referenced and there are other characters who are thinly veiled portraits of real-life offenders. A supporting cast of characters – WPC Barbara Sherman, a police officer in an age where female officers suffered routine misogyny from their colleagues, and Gail Proctor, a young freelance journalist – are trying to expose these people. But it’s Archie who steals the show. Hapless and naïve, he doesn’t realise what he’s stepped into and how his simple pursuit of his dreams has upset the evildoer’s apple cart.
This is a comedic book full of heart, despite the story’s grim undercurrent. This is not a crime thriller, and it is not an earnest or hard read; that said, neither does it treat the difficult subject matter with flippancy. It is a paean to the Glasgow of the seventies – one can feel the author’s affection for the city and time period – though not rose-tinted and ignorant of the poverty that blighted it. But mostly it’s a roller coaster of a ride, one man’s attempt to follow his dreams and reach for the sky, ignorant of the fact that all around him is cynicism and criminality. This is a great book, a poignant and funny blast, and I can highly recommend it.
James Pierson 5/5
Welcome to the Heady Heights by David F. Ross
Orenda Books 9781912374618 pbk Mar 2019