Posted in Book Reviews

Want You Gone – Herald Review

Want You Gone

Chris Brookmyre

Little, Brown £18.99

ONE of the defining characteristics of Chris Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane novels is the development of his protagonist. While other crime luminaries rest comfortably in stasis, Parlabane, like a great white shark, keeps moving. This makes him one of the more fascinating characters in crime fiction, stumbling into one bad situation after another, but finding a way through thanks to his own particular sense of morality.

In this tale, Parlabane is called on to repay a favour and is plunged into the cyber world of hackers. He is in London to attend an interview with Broadwave, an achingly hip online news outlet. His disreputable past is proving a sticking point but the young editor is a fan and Parlabane soon finds himself in gainful employment. He is living in the flat of a friend who is abroad and his life is settling down. When the Royal Scottish Great Northern bank is hacked, Parlabane decides to get in touch with ace hacker, Buzzkill, who has both helped and hindered him in the past. He is hoping Buzzkill will give him inside information, so that he can start his Broadwave career with an exclusive story.

Meanwhile, Sam Morpeth is living in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Her mother is in prison, and Sam has to look after her younger sister, Lilly, who has Down’s syndrome. Giving up her dream of going to university, Sam leaves school and takes a job in a sandwich shop. In order to work full-time, she tries to access benefits to pay for an after-school club for Lilly. However, she must already be working full-time in order to qualify, the benefits officer with a face “like a recently slammed door” tells her. Brookmyre is no stranger to including social comment in his novels and here he takes aim at the benefits system. He piles misery upon misery on 19-year-old Sam, pushing her to the extreme. Sam’s online life keeps her sane but when a stranger calling himself Zodiac, threatens to expose every facet of her life, she is blackmailed into committing crime. Turning to Parlabane for help, she in turn threatens to expose his more illegal actions to ensure his cooperation. Together they devise the crime, all the while looking for a way to outwit Zodiac. Sam has to think of Lilly’s welfare while Parlabane is trying to keep his new job.

Brookmyre’s black humour is evident throughout the novel. Parlabane comes across a receptionist, “wearing roughly as much foundation as Joan of Arc would need for an open-casket funeral”. When he attends a Broadwave party, “everything is so on-trend that the leftovers are likely binned in a few hours for being out of fashion”.

The online duel between Sam and Zodiac could make for very dull reading. However, Brookmyre injects plenty of jeopardy to ratchet up the tension. Sam explains her plan to Parlabane who knows a little about computers but is lost when she starts planting Trojan Horses and finding back doors. He is more at home when he has to charm vital information from unwitting employees. Although a lot of the action takes place in cyber space, it doesn’t stop Parlabane from breaking and entering premises and almost freezing to death while stealing a prototype from a sub-zero lab. Much of the time he and Sam seem to be one step ahead of the police but one step behind the mysterious Zodiac.

This is an older, somewhat wiser Parlabane, who is trying to get his life on an even keel. He develops an unexpectedly paternal relationship with Sam, which means he takes the kind of risks he had promised himself were in the past. It is curious to see him in this role. Disarmed by Sam’s courage and determination to look after Lilly, he seems bewildered by his feelings.

Brookmyre’s plot is full of surprising twists and turns that make it pleasingly difficult to guess the ending, while Parlabane’s evolution forms the emotional heart of the novel. It is an engrossing read, combining appealing characters with a contemporary scenario drawn from the murkier corners of modern life.

Posted in Book Reviews

The Missing and The Dead – Independent on Sunday Review

The Missing and the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Reviewed by Shirley Whiteside

Stuart MacBride’s ninth Logan McRae novel sees the laconic police sergeant banished to the wilds of rural Aberdeenshire in what is termed a “development opportunity”. In fact, he has blotted his copy book one too many times in Aberdeen, and his senior officers have decided that a spell in the sticks will teach him a lesson. Shoplifters, vandals, and rounding up the occasional escaped farm animal make up the day-to-day routine of pastoral policing. Away from work, McRae keeps himself busy renovating the rundown Sergeant’s Hoose next to the police station, settling in for a long wait before he can return to the city beat. He survives on tinned lentil soup as he is paying for 24-hour care for his girlfriend, Samantha, who was grievously injured during one of his previous investigations. This slower pace gives MacBride room to explore McRae’s character in more depth, and he emerges as a less cynical man who starts to enjoy the collaborative nature of rural policing.

His quiet life is shattered when a little girl’s body is washed up on the shore and the Major Investigation Team from Aberdeen appears to take over the case. McRae is ordered not to interfere, but when his former DCI arrives, the gloriously un-PC Roberta Steel, she drags him into the investigation whether he likes it or not. DCI Steel is as blunt and hilarious as ever. She manipulates McRae with consummate skill, wheedling and tricking him into helping her earn brownie points with her boss by solving the murder. McRae sails close to the wind, having already been warned off, but his instincts are as sharp as ever and he uncovers some vital clues. The search for the child’s killer involves untangling a web of deceit which is dark and gripping. MacBride has obviously researched rural policing thoroughly, and the daily drudge feels authentic. One of MacBride’s strengths is the care he takes in giving the more minor characters rounded personalities. The banter and politics of the police service may have their own peculiarities, but anyone who has worked in a large company or an office will recognise the petty jealousies, cliques, and in-jokes that MacBride observes so well. He introduces some local words – the book is dedicated to the brave loons and quines of Grampian Police – which gives a strong sense of place. MacBride has written another riveting page-turner. Although seamed with his usual pitch-black humour it is not as macabre as some of McRae’s previous outings but is more emotional and affecting.

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