Little, Brown 2007, 343 p.
The fifth in Brookmyre’s series of novels featuring journalist Jack Parlabane and it’s the mixture as usual, flashes of mordant humour in amongst investigation of nefarious goings on. In this one though, Brookmyre’s target is a rather easy one, spiritualists/mediums/psychics – whom Brookmyre characterises, no doubt wholly justifiably, as interested only in the money their activities bring in. The set-up is that Parlabane, as a newly installed Rector of Kelvin University, has been called in as an observer of a trial of psychic phenomena at the University (a fiction which is a very thinly disguised version of my alma mater, The University, Glasgow.) The catch is that in order to receive the money to fund a Chair of Spiritual Sciences the University has to accept that it be set up under the Science faculty, as is the trial.
The level of mayhem here, and the body count, is lower than in the typical Brookmyre novel. Most of the murders occur offstage. It’s all good readable stuff; though the early musings of rival journalist Jillian Noble are a bit tedious.
Along the way we learn about the history of psychic faking and the various ruses its practitioners employ to gull the suggestible. Appropriately given this subject matter there is a certain amount of authorial misdirection going on. But we are warned by the text that nothing here is what it seems.
We are also treated to Parlabane’s observation apropos the Scottish male psyche, “Anything that gets us off discussing our emotions can only be applauded; it drives us forward, away from petty distractions, in our never-ending quest to understand everything except ourselves.”
I did notice the occurrence of phrases which Brookmyre would later use as book titles – when the devil drives; where the bodies are buried.
This isn’t pretending to be great literature but once past the Jillian Noble bits it is entertaining enough.
And the unsinkable rubber ducks? This is the term used for those who cling stubbornly to belief in psychic phenomena no matter how often or completely they are debunked or shown to be fraudulent.
Pedant’s corner:- At one point reference is made to a Kelvin Avenue. Its counterpart in the real world could be Kelvin Way (unlikely) or, more realistically, University Avenue. It is unfortunate then that, later, Brookmyre refers to University Avenue. The trial is named Project Lamda: the Greek letter is spelled lambda. Some of these following irritations may charitably be attributed to being in the narrating character’s voice. Homeopathy (whatever happened to œ or even oe?) medieval (ditto æ or ae,) “served to maximise the crescendo,” (a crescendo is a steady build-up, can you maximise a build-up?) the mean time (meantime,) a “he said” for a “she said,” off of, snuck (sneaked,) “pan breid” the usual phrase is “brown breid.”