Friday, June 02, 2006

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil - Christopher Brookmyre

No explosions in this one, but all the other Brookmyre hallmarks are there - an intricate plot, complex and believable characters and a hefty dose of dry humour. It's easy to make comparisons with his earlier school-reunion book One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night, but if anything this is slightly grimmer and more adult. This is probably due to the aforementioned lack of explosions, but also because he takes the brave step of killing off a character that you've come to care about (not a spoiler, don't worry; the body is discovered in the very first sentence).

The book opens with short scenes alternating between two panicked guys trying to hide some bodies, and the police discovering the remains shortly afterwards. An unfortunately-placed page break had me briefly confused, as it made it look like the police were doing the inept body-disposal themselves, but that was just bad layout - one thing you can be sure of with Brookmyre is that his characters are never going to act in inappropriate ways for the sake of a plot device. The first two criminals - old classmates of both the detective and the victim - are quickly apprehended, but of course it's not as simple as that (or it'd be a very short book). The subsequent police-procedural murder investigation then takes something of a back seat, as we go back to follow the characters' journey through the horrors of primary school, to see what clues can be found there.

This is a welcome return to classic, old-style murder mystery, where villains can be tracked down by unravelling the background and the motives - Patricia Cornwell and her forensic-detecting ilk are all very well, but as bad guys go, motiveless psychopaths are a bit of a cop-out. Here, Brookmyre is in his element, building a convincing past for all the main players, interspersed with the ongoing investigation and how they all interact as adults; as ever, his characters are made of real blood and bone, and you end up sympathising with even the worst of them.

I won't be giving anything away by saying the ending is unexpected - it is a mystery, after all. However, there's no gimmicky twist or Agatha Christie triteness, just an ending that ties it all up and seems entirely natural. Another result from a consistently good writer.



Post a Comment

<< Home