Little Brown, 2001
This is one of the spoils of the library book sale I posted about a while back. I’d never read any Brookmyre and thought this might be as good an introduction as any.
The plot centres on acts of terrorism. In this it resembles Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel but Brookmyre’s slant is more comedic. For example one of his viewpoint characters goes on a wonderful rant about all things Aberdonian (which also harbours an incidental side-swipe at Dundee) and there is an English lesson on A Midsummer Night’s Dream which descends into farce. In these post September 11th, July 7th and June 30th times such interweaving of light and dark does not perhaps sit as well as when the book was published in 2001 and, in Britain at least (with the agreement in Northern Ireland,) terrorism seemed less threatening. A key encounter early in the book does in fact take place at Glasgow Airport, a setting which has more resonance now than then.
You may have gathered from the above the novel is yet another multi-stranded narrative. (Is there no escape?) We meet Angelique De Xavia, a black female Glasgow cop into languages and martial arts; Raymond Ash, a teacher new to the profession but with a previous background in computer games; Simon Darcourt, an old university acquaintance of his; Lexy and Wee Murph, two pupils from his school who manage accidentally to get caught up in things. Also in the mix are references to Lobey Dosser and Rank Bajin, creations of the Glasgow cartoonist Bud Neill.
However, structurally something was awry. There was a considerable amount of info dumping – perhaps inevitably given the scenario – but also too much intrusion of backstories which interrupted the flow of the plot. This last may have been to inject an extra dose of literariness into the endeavour but I found it irritating.
The book contains more than a few misspellings (or, if I’m more generous, typos.) I wouldn’t have commented on this but Brookmyre himself highlights some of his incidental characters’ inability to spell (on placards in a street protest) and thereby makes himself, and his publisher, fair game.
The climax, where the cop’s martial arts, and the teacher’s gaming, skills naturally come in handy, occurs in a setting which would work well cinematically. I wonder if Brookmyre had thoughts on film or TV rights when he conceived it.
In sum, despite some longueurs, Brookmyre can write. He spins out a good plot, his characterisation is effective and he knows how to tease the reader. I’ll look out for him at future book sales.