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This is my third Brookmyre book, and the third Brookmyre book I have loved. What I love about Brookmyre's writing seems to be what puts other people off. Labelled as a crime writer; he mixes in politics, satire, comedy and off-beat references aplenty. I can see how someone looking for a thriller writer might be put off with the rantings, and I can see how someone wanting rants against the system might be put of by the crime aspect.
Reading reviews of Brookmyre's books, its disappointing to read so many people slate him for not sticking to one genre within one book. Many reviews seem happy to focus on one aspect of his books and this seems to have forced Brookmyre to build a very split fan base, you either love or are indifferent Brookmyre. Its no coincidence that more recently his publishers have convinced him to focus more on crime, take out the spite, black humor and wit and even change his name to 'Chris' to fully acknowledge this change. And, if I'm to be honest, I'm not really looking forward to reading the newer stuff.
The first Brookmyre book I read was ' Quite Ugly One Morning', also his first. In this great first novel, Brookmyre introduces Jack Parlabane. Brookmyres Harry Hole, Jack is a part time journalist, investigator, truth seeker and borderline freelance spy. He is daring, risky and crammed full of charm, Brookmyre blessing him with the sharpest, most caustic lines and exciting plot lines. Of the 14 books Brookmyre has released, only 5 feature Parlabane - and I wasn't going to rush through these, as much as I wanted too. So, after 'Quite Ugly...' I picked a later non-Parlabane novel, and although 'A Tale Etched...' was great, I was eager to get back to Jack, excited even.
The first 20 pages of 'Country Of....' 400 serve as an excellent showcase for what Brookmyre does best. Teeth and claws are sunk deep into the media circa 1997 (although most of the references could have been pointed out 2012), with conservative media mogul Dutchman Roland Voss at the top. Brookmyre is seething with rage, the way media bosses and politics mix his target, and he gets vicious. And, as someone who shares his outlook here - I loved these opening parts really laying into reactionary tabloid news with no sense of remorse or regret - holding nothing back. If bad language puts you off, be ready to be put off.
As the unaplogetic rage quietens down, Brookmyre carefully makes various threads that will eventually form the plot come to the fore - eventually we have 4/5 parties that over the course of the book will eventually entwine and form a riveting story, full of pace that become thoroughly addictive reading. The kind of story that will force you to pick this book up whenever you can.
Brookmyre turns up the rage, as well as the pitch black humor as he introduces Jack to the plot - and builds on an already brilliantly well written character giving even more flesh, story and uses him as a deafening voice to further shout his outrage at the way the media works. Before Jack saves anyone life, he's already a hero with his razor sharp lines at how atrocious modern day newspapers function.
The pace picks up and very rarely slows down - I can't explain too much without giving the plot away, but to sum up; a media boss is murder and 4 men are framed. Unwilling, it comes to Jack to get to the bottom of whats going on - but the deeper he digs, the deeper he's in. What Brookmyre does great here is effortlessly jump from timezone to timezone, rant to ramble to plot and back to rant again. There is never a feeling you're about to get lost - even though it feels like he's trying to loose you, he shows you the way just in time. This gives Brookmyre a lot of chances to squeeze in lots of ideas - the plots, nostalgic flashbacks and generally raging out wherever possible.
As the book flies by the threads get plucked and pulled and the paces picks up with little snippets of whats to come - and slowly revealing the truth, opting to take a pop at the media in the final part of the part rather than save things for a big reveal - a satisfying ending non-the-less, but I can see how crime fiction fans might be a bit deflated.
Not as thrilling as some of Christopher Brookmyre's other books, especially One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night which is by far my favourite, but still well worth a read.
The book brings back the character of investigative journalist Jack Parlabane who was first introduced in Brookmyre's first book, Quite Ugly One Morning. Other characters such as Jack's girlfriend, Sarah, and policewoman, Jenny, also feature again in this book.
The story begins with the murder of a media mogul in his country house, apparently by a group of would-be thieves who are swiftly caught. Everyone is convinced that they are guilty but not Parlabane who sets about investigating the situation which results in a typical Brookmyre tale, mixing action, humour and politics in a fast-moving and exciting story.
I thought that the action took quite a while to begin, however when it did come it was so fast and furious that I forgave the author entirely for keeping me waiting. The story darts backwards and forwards through time which I found frustrating because I wanted to find out what will happen to the characters in the situations they are in at the present time but instead you have to wait for some element of the past to be explained. This style of writing is not as confusing as you might expect, in fact the author very cleverly reveals peoples motives and actions piece by piece through the use of these flashbacks.
This is a very well-written tale of corruption and murder. It is a bit slow-moving at times but is still definitely worth reading. You probably need to read Quite Ugly One Morning first though as you won't get all the references otherwise.
Following the adventures in Quite Ugly One Morning, we fast forward not so very long to find Parlabane living in domestic bliss and about to get hitched. As part of the engagement package, Parlabane has promised his soon-to-be-missus that he'll give up the, urm... more dangerous, dodgy and downright illegal parts of his investigative journalism career.
Of course, that's before a former adversary of our hero is found in a plush stately home with his throat cut. The story takes up the aftermath of the death of powerful media tycoon, Roland Voss, who is found slaughtered along with his wife and bodyguards. The culprits seem obvious: the burglars caught fleeing the scene covered in blood. But if it's that obvious, why did one of the men pay a visit to his lawyer a few days beforehand, and what are the secret contents of the envelope he left with her - something that seems to be worth killing for?
I did find myself really quite enjoying this book. It's fast paced and (very) darkly funny, with enough twists and 'what happens next' to keep me turning pages. But it is flawed. A lot.
My first complaint is about Brookmyre's writing style. I very quickly became a bit irritated with the author's more than occasional showing off with language, which leads to almost tortuous blocks of text, saying very little with as many words (preferably long ones) as possible. Such moments added nothing to the story, but only made me think that after the success of his debut novel, Brookmyre was feeling rather puffed up on his own 'literary achievements'.
Further adding to this feeling was the treatment of our hero. Parlabane is never (re-)introduced here; instead the initial references are made with a sort of sly, knowing nod, as if the author is nudging you about how you (the reader) and he (the author) are sharing an in-joke by way of the previous book. Fortunately, both of these irritations are either kept to minimum, or I got caught up so much in the story that I didn't notice so much! I suspect a bit of both, although the "flexing of the thesaurus show" does crop up again quite noticeably nearer the end. Also carrying all the way through is an obvious feel that the author would quite like to be his leading man: Parlabane is smooth and slick, always catching on quickly to the right answers, and never seriously putting a foot wrong. Almost tiresome.
However, such is the gleeful fun to be had as lawyers and robbers are chased about the country by police, MI5 and journalists, that the above didn't put me off the story. The odd wordy paragraph aside, Brookmyre has a vicious sense of humour that manages to make cold-blooded killings seem as drenched in chuckles as blood.
What helps this feel is the pantomime nature of the 'baddies'. I want to list this as a flaw, but on reflection it does add a sense of balance. In fact, there is a mix of cold-blooded killers, almost comically-psychotic hit men, and the bumbling eejit supposedly in charge. Don't worry - I'm not giving anything away. Like QUOM, the book starts out as a 'whodunit' before telling us exactly who it was, and letting us see both sides of the story as it unravels.
Talking of being like QUOM: another complaint. The two books are, in my mind, very similar. Brookmyre swaps medical politics for the more direct kind, but otherwise the similarities are plain. Both 'high heid'yins' are pompous, English, upper-class idiots, who are as cold-blooded as they are inbred, by the sounds of it. Both give a feel of not really understanding how their crimes could really be such, when they're merely dispatching with a few plebs for the good of the government/nation/country/delete as applicable. In other words, characters with absolutely no sympathetic features. Thus the reader can boo and hiss, and feel doubly gleeful at every success for the 'good guys'.
These good guys form an odd bunch: Parlabane, obviously, but with far more of a team feel this time round adding in his fiancé and 'polis' representation from Jenny (from QUOM - again, no introductions here!); then there's two ex-burglars, one offspring, a 'Spammy' (see later!), and a lawyer.
The bulk of the novel keeps the focus with this rag-tag bunch and away from Parlabane. A large part of the story follows the four accused men. I'm not telling what befalls them, but the characters themselves do add something. Originally jailed for robbing stately homes in protest for being made redundant, the flashback chapter dealing with their circumstances shows Brookmyre's politics aren't just tongue in cheek, or rantingly nationalistic. And of course, there's Spammy. Pot-head moron or genius, Brookmyre perhaps over-plays (with) the character just a little too much, but scarecrow-built Spammy is certainly a lot of fun! Alas, the foursome are dialogued in broad Scots dialect, which I must confess to finding very tedious. Perhaps because everyone has a Scottish accent in my head anyway, I don't really care to decipher "dinnaes" and "Ah'm goans". Yawn.
So, moaning a plenty, so am I suggesting you avoid this book? Nope! While I don't think it's a great novel, the flaws manage to outweigh everything *apart from* the story - there is a lot of fun to be had here. By the time Parlabane starts pulling rabbits out of the hat faster than you can count 'em, I was so caught up in cheering that I was past caring about flowery prose, Scots twangs, and even how perfectly and speedily everything starts falling together at the end.
I'm looking forward to picking up again with Jack Parlabane in his next outing. I do think that Brookmyre could (and hopefully will) do a lot better, and there's always fun to be had along the way. Feel free (and encouraged) to join us - just make sure you've read Quite Ugly One Morning first, okay?
Paperback 380 pages (Abacus 2004)
First released in 1997
Cover price £7.99
Nicole Carrow is a young solicitor in Glasgow who finds herself at the centre of a media storm after she defends four men accused of murdering a newspaper tycoon. Then she gets home to find a strange man in her flat who tells her that her life is in danger.
Jack Parlabane is an investigative journalist who has been looking into Nicole's controversial case. He will protect her if she goes with him. Showing a surprising degree of trust, she consents. Luckily for her, Jack is a good guy. Unfortunately though, he's right about the danger, and the events which follow suggest his optimism could be misplaced.
Meanwhile, a bus taking a group of men held on terrorism charges explodes, and they escape. They are sure that the trial they face won't be fair and they expect long sentences. These 4 men are small time criminals. Brookmyre skilfully shows their life on the run and the developing relationships of friendship and affection between them.
These two storylines are interwoven before coming together near the end of the book. I read on to find out if Jack and his girlfriend Sarah would help Nicole, whether the escapees can survive and stay outside. etc.
Jack and Sarah also featured in a previous book, Quite Ugly One Morning, and it was nice to meet up with them again. Their friend Jenny the rebellious policewoman from that book also reappears, albeit only briefly. I also liked the characters of the escapees.
As was the case in the other book by the author I've read, the baddies in this book are fairly obvious - they are Tory politicians and those with powerful vested interests in maintaining the status quo.
So, I liked the characters. The plot didn't seem that substantial to me and relied heavily on conspiracy. The book was quite slow paced. The previous book was very funny and quite political with some passages of ranting, and I expected the second to be similar. It turned out to be less humorous than I expected, with similar politics, and to have a lot of passages given to political ranting. I don't really mind whether or not a book is very funny, but even I got bored with the rants and I have a high tolerance for these things when the political comment is on the side of the fence I'm on.
This book was published in 1997, and it was fairly clearly written while Britain including Scotland had a Conservative government - after more than 6 years of New Labour, this seemed slightly dated.
I like the characters enough that I plan to carry on reading although I found this one quite dry. Some of the others have fascinating settings too. And there are books which don't feature Parlabane which also appeal to me. However, though I would recommend Brookmyre's work, I would probably suggest a different book - at the moment this would be Quite Ugly One Morning but I'm looking forward to the other books, with a wide variety of settings including a school reunion.
a few details here:
Paperback 404 pages, published 1997
Publisher: Abacus; ISBN: 0349109303
Cover price £6.99; Amazon sell for £5.59
Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php
Country of the Blind is the second book by Christopher Brookmyre, and features the return of Jack Parlabane, investigative journalist extraordinaire. The book opens with the murder of a millionaire media tycoon, whilst at a country retreat in the highlands. Caught running from the scene of the crime are four burglars, found breaking into the retreat. Everyone is convinced of their guilt, except Jack Parlabane, and the rest of the book is a rollicking, roller-coaster ride of excitement. Featuring the ever sarcastic Jack Parlabane, his suffering wife, and many of the characters from the first book (Quite Ugly One Morning), this is a sharply observed, extremely cynical, politically charged thriller that is also funny, clever and enthralling. A far better, bigger book than the debut, this sees Jack Parlabane (and, by extension, Christopher Brookmyre) take on the political scene, the conservative party in particular, the frenzied mutterings of tabloid papers, the machinations of media tycoons, and show them all up for the frauds that they are. The dialogue is sharp, the characters are memorable, the plot is fast, clever and thrilling, and, all in all, it is a worthy recipient for your money.
Following the escape of some prisoners, a young solicitor reveals that one of them had placed in her possession a letter which proves his innocence. Journalist Jack Parlabane is intrigued, but someone else is trying to get near - someone with political connections and evil intent.