Abacus, 2009, 388p.
Not the most profound book with which to start my Read Scotland Challenge; not typical Brookmyre either as it’s set in California. First published in 1998, it imagines a millenarian run up to the end of the century.
LAPD cop Larry Freeman has a strange disappearance or four to investigate, photographer – and Motherwell supporter – Stephen Kennedy is in town to cover the American Feature Film Marketing Board meeting and take the pics for an interview with erstwhile porn actress Madeleine Witherson (the daughter of a US Senator,) failed US Presidential candidate and evangelical preacher Luther St John is whipping up the faithful for the new millennium.
St John has dubbed Witherson “The Whore of Babylon,” a symbol of the moral degradation into which he regards the US to have fallen, stirred up by the film and television industry. He has also predicted God will send a tidal wave to inundate greater Los Angeles in early 1999 as a signal of His wrath.
As to the plot, the Gazes Also, a boat belonging to the California Oceanic Research Institute, has been found crewless, a latter day Mary Celeste. Four scientists are missing. Another, Sandra Biscayne, was murdered several months before. St John sponsored both their projects. It’s not difficult to join the dots…. In the meantime religious nut-job Daniel Corby has plans of his own to sway the godless from their wicked ways. Plans which involve murder and human (self)-sacrifice. It’s a Brookmyre novel, there’s bound to be mayhem in it somewhere.
It’s well enough constructed, if not difficult to second guess, and Brookmyre carries us along admirably. He does feel the need to fill in characters’ back stories at considerable length, though, providing psychological reasons for them being the way they are, which is a little at odds with the overall thriller nature. He also manages to insert into the narrative a description of the eruption of Thera, the volcano whose explosion and subsequent tsunami destroyed the Minoan civilisation.
Religious fundamentalists (of whatever stripe) are easy targets, but none the less deserving of censure. None of them seem willing to live and let live. All of them are in the business of justifying their desire to control the behaviour – and thoughts – of others. Brookmyre doesn’t spare them.
There aren’t quite as many jokes as in a more typical Brookmyre novel and there isn’t a great deal of his usual Scots vernacular, though Kennedy has some good lines.
A mildly diverting, relatively undemanding read, even if I did spot two continuity errors. If you’re a fundamentalist it isn’t for you though.