I was lucky enough to be offered an early copy of Gordon J. Brown’s latest novel, No More Games, a few weeks back, and once it made it to the top of my reading pile, I tore through it in a matter of days.
Set in Glasgow in 1974, it follows twelve-year-old Ginger Bannerman and his best mate, Milky, as they deal with the horrors of first year of high school, the local loons, and the discovery of a strange man hiding in their secret den.
When they find the gun the man has stashed, things begin to snowball for the pair, and soon they find themselves on the wrong sides of some very dangerous people. Too scared to tell Ginger’s distant and violent father about what they’ve got themselves mixed up in, and with all the adults in their lives apparently harbouring secrets of their own, the boys are left to try and deal with their problems themselves.
And that’s when the trouble really starts.
This was a blisteringly good read that pulled me in with its warmth and humour, before pulling the rug out from under me on more than one occasion. The relationship between Ginger and Milky is so perfectly written that I felt like a third member of the gang at points, and while I grew up a little later and a little further north, I completely identified with their childhood spent roaming the streets of their council estate and mucking about in their den.
The whole thing felt like a Scottish Stand By Me, as the discovery of a body – albeit a living one, in this case – turns the boys’ lives upside down, and forces them to grow up as they confront some very adults truths and dangers.
Though the book is very funny – there are several genuine laugh out loud moments – there’s always a growing sense of dread just below the surface. You quickly come to care about the boys, and I was in a constant state of worry for them as their fortunes went from bad to worse.
While they make a few stupid decisions as they try to fix their situation, the child like logic behind them makes perfect sense. As an adult, you know their plans are likely doomed to failure, but that only makes you care more, worry more, and root for their success.
Or, at the very least, for their survival.
It can be difficult to strike the right balance between darkness and light in a book like this, but Gordon J. Brown makes it look easy. There’s gritty darkness here, but also moments of real joy and hope, and the conceit that it hangs on – occasional chapters reveal a present day conversation between the now-adult Ginger and a nameless other – pays off beautifully in the closing pages.
I know some people will be put off by the main characters being children, but I urge you to give it a try. No More Games is a tense and thrilling crime novel that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, and is all the better for it. It feels like a love letter to growing up in 1970s Glasgow and, at the same time, a survivor’s post-traumatic account of it.
Only, you know, with funny bits.
No More Games is published by Red Dog Press on 30th March 2023. You can order it now on Amazon.