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Written by Christopher Brookmyre this book features one of his best known characters Jack Parlablane an Edinburgh journalist and a man who has a habit of getting into trouble. Jack has recently returned from Los Angeles after things got a little too hot for his liking and I do not mean the weather, and after waking up hungover he leaves his flat to investigate a strange smell only to get himself locked out. He also notices a police prescence and it turns out that the smell is due to a mutilated corpse in the flat below and a rather disgusting crime scene.
For reasons of his own he wants to avoid the police but only succeeds in becomming the prime suspect in the investigation. Soon released he begins to meddle in the case, his natural journalistic nosiness getting the better of him.
I did love this book, it is a wonderfully balck comedy thriller that has some excellent characters, I like the way it captures the sort of dark brooding Scottish humour in the main characters and it was a book I found it really hard to put down.
The story is well crafted and there is good character development as well. The writing style just seems to effortlessly flow from the page and I have certainly become a fan of Brookmyre.
British politics is used as a beacon across the globe of a system of purity and genuine democracy. Every person over 18 is given the vote and is allowed to choose whatever party they like. However, is it really all fair play? British politics is more about who knows who and insider deals. Do you think you rise to the top on your own merits? You need to promise many favours if you are going to get any power. British politics is as inefficient and dodgy as many other countries it's just that we choose to not worry. The amount of power we give the ruling party is the envy of many a country, including the United States. How can someone highlight the hypocrisy that is politics? A straight forward book would do nothing but encourage people who already know about it to read more. Christopher Brookmyre has got the right idea - package your message into an amusing crime thriller that has more than its fair slice of the macabre cake.
Jack Parlabane is a journalist who seems to find trouble wherever he goes. After fleeing the United States he finds himself crashing in a friend's flat in Edinburgh. Fast asleep he is unable to hear the murder downstairs, therefore, it's not his fault that the next day after locking himself out he is found in the victim's home trying to jimmy the window. Perhaps being caught by the police for something he did not do will be a blessing in disguise. He is a man with certain talents to uncover dirt where other people refuse to tread. It just so happens that this place is the NHS were the dirt is thicker than most.
It is hard for me to decide exactly what type of novel 'Ugly' is. On the one hand it is a very funny comedy novel, on the other a dark crime thriller - and in a nuclear experiment gone wrong type of way a third hand emerges that is a biting indictment of British politics. In essence the book is all three and the skill in which Brookmyre writes the book means that fans of any three of these genres can gain enjoyment from the book.
It is possibly the characters that make the book as amusing as it is as Brookmyre has populated his novel with a group of deeply flawed characters, not least the central chancer of Parlabane. One of the biggest pit falls of having a cocky anti-hero at the centre of your book is that they can appear annoying rather than sympathetic. It is testament to Brookmyre that this is not the case with Parlabane as he is a charming sardonic character that you can not help but enjoy. By having a street smart central character who also happened to be an investigative journalist Brookmyre is able to seamlessly introduce another element of the book - politics.
Parlabane specialises in uncovering dirty politicians and the areas of comedy, crime and politics all work through him. If you choose to you can read 'Ugly' as a straight comedy thriller, however, there is far more to it. Brookmyre highlights in an amusing way the fact that the NHS is being slowly taken over by greedy profiteers. Patients are no longer people, but figures on a bar graph that must be manipulated in the most efficient way. At no point does this political stance ruin the book for you as it is a natural part of the story.
The final element of the book is the dark crime thrills. These are brought by the bad guys who are both amusing and accident prone. Central villain Lime is a slimy man who will do anything for money. Although he feels a little dated for a book written in 1996 he is a bad guy you can get around to hating. The macabre comes in the form of henchman Darren who is a ruthless killer prone to losing digits. The investigation that leads Parlabane to these men feels pretty real. Rather than have a comedic approach to the case, Brookmyre has Parlabane attacking the situation the way that a true life journalist would (with perhaps a few more illegal activities).
The mixing of crime, laughs and politics is extremely successful in 'Ugly', but this is not to say that there are not some issues. As mentioned earlier some areas felt dated, as if the book was a while in the writing, or took a long between writing and publishing. One major element is the use of a computer programme used in the book that I feel is absolutely ridiculous. Most people would not notice something like this, but for me it was a blatant plot device that failed to work. Another area is that the book can be crude at times. For an intelligent comedy that attacks politics many serious readers will be put off with the levels of toilet humour. I can not say that was a problem for me, but I can imagine it being so for some.
If you are a fan of Carl Hiaasen or Colin Bateman then Brookmyre's 'Quite Ugly One Morning' is just for you. All of these authors specialise in writing intelligent crime thrillers that have biting satire and political stances at their centre. Having read several later Brookmyre books I know that his output is patchy. However, as this is his debut and a good book - I advise reading it!
Author: Christopher Brookmyre
Price: amazon uk - £5.99
play.com - £5.99
Jack Parlabane, a Glaswegian investigative journalist with a bit of a reputation of skirting the law in pursuit of a story has just returned home to Scotland from America. Kipping over at a mate's place in Edinburgh, he awakens in the morning with the smell of vomit (not his own) filling his nostrils and a general feeling of being unwell that can only be attained through binge drinking.
Tracing the rather obnoxious odour, Parlabane finds himself locked out of his own flat, dressed only in his boxer shorts with various members of the law enforcement community milling around a flat on the floor below.
Parlabane's, perhaps unwise, decision to tiptoe through the crime scene to gain access to his own flat loses the "perhaps" when he's caught beside a mutilated corpse and a rather large mess in the living room.
One short trip to the cop shop later, and Parlabane is a free man, albeit one with a whiff of a story in his nostrils. Now all he has to do is grab a few unsuspecting souls and drag them along for the ride, too.
Quite Ugly did grab me very quickly and I got sucked into the plot which started quickly and continued along at a brisk pace, right until the end. While not exactly a real page-turner, it is an engaging book that keeps interest levels up until the climax.
Characterisation is often a problem is books of this type that require you to make an emotional bond in order to bump up the tension. With the main two or three characters, the people are sufficiently fleshed out although though not spectacularly so. I thought it was obvious, at least in Parlabane's character that foundations were being laid for a returning character. The 'good guys' are likable and the 'bad guys' are either stupid, complete gits or both.
There are some issues, though. Brookmyre's insistence in spelling out the pronunciation of various characters' speech can be off-putting initially, though I quickly adapted to this. This might have been because some of the phrases used were similar to the Irish/Belfast colloquialisms. Brookmyre's work can be described as black-humoured crime. While 'crime' isn't a genre that I'd say was one of my favourites, I do like my black humour and Brookmyre delivers this in spades.
The tale is told from both sides, much like a Colombo episode, so you do know who the bad guys are, so don't expect a huge mystery or whodunit. The story is more about the journey than any twists or surprises, but enough is kept from you to ensure you're not completely in the know by the end of the book and some of the situations that Parlabane finds himself in are silly enough to stop the book from bring formulaic.
Despite all this positive press, Quite Ugly is, in my opinion, not Brookmyre's best. It's worth starting here, at the beginning, though. The stories and writing get better in later books and some characters reappear in later books. Some are given full-blown leading roles, but others appear much in the same way that Kevin Smith cross-references his own characters in his movies with brief cameos or even just as a reference in a conversation.
Even so, it must be my old age because it's been a long time since I can remember either a book or an album really grabbing me immediately and leaving me gasping for more, but this did. I was thankful for the recommendation from someone who shares similar tastes to mine in books and in turn. If you like your black humour, then I'd definitely recommend Brookmyre's work and this, his first novel, is as good a place to start as any.
Jack Parlabane is about to have a Very Bad Day. First he wakes up with the hangover from hell - and where _is_ that smell of puke coming from? As he goes to investigate, he's drawn out onto the landing to see why there are a squad of 'polismen' outside of the downstairs flat.
Click. That would be the door locking Parlabane out of his current residence, and in just his boxer shorts.
Maybe it's the hangover stopping him from thinking straight, maybe it's the fact that he's an investigative journalist and the smell of puke can't totally distract our hero from the scent of a story... but somehow it seems like such a good idea at the time to slip past the police into the flat downstairs, and get back into his own flat via the window. On the other hand, being caught (semi-naked) standing beside both a mutilated corpse and an enormous... urm... defecation on the mantelpiece is more likely to get you into a police station than back home.
But somehow, being ruled out as the first suspect in a murder case doesn't stop Parlabane's nose from twitching to find out what exactly happened - and more to the point, why? And so Jack starts sniffing around the dead doctor's place of employment, with all the morally-questionable investigation skills that nearly got him killed on his last job...
Quite Ugly One Morning is Christopher Brookmyre's first novel, from back in 1996. It's since been adapted for television, making it a slightly strange read for me, as I could remember half the plot - full credit then, that I could still enjoy a... well, not 'whodunit', more a 'why did they do it?'... without too much in the way of 'what happens next?'. Brookmyre's dark humour was more than enough to carry me through despite this: I loved his dry sense of very Scottish humour, his wonderfully cynical and well-drawn characters, and the sheer tongue-in-cheek nastiness of some of the situations!
Jack Parlabane himself was a character I warmed to almost immediately. From the TV version, I had a mental image of Jimmy Nesbitt totally stuck in my head, to the extent that Parlabane's lines came out in my head with a Northern Irish drawl. Strange, then, to read of the short, blonde, Glaswegian who actually filled the role! Nesbitt totally owned the character for me on screen, but the more I read, the more the mental image transformed: this tough, self-sufficient, wry little 'Weegie was too strong a character not to start shining through in his own light.
Away from the main player, however, I can't say I was overly enthralled with any of the characters: they were more overshadowed than anything. A few strong women made a refreshing change, but the 'baddies' really were on the pantomime side. Somehow, though, it worked - and worked well. There is a sense of gleeful romp going on here than kept the pages turning, through grimly bloody deeds and the darkest of hospital politics, along a path so twisting that you wonder at the end how you could have ended up so far removed from the beginning in such a short space of time.
Another draw for this Edinburgher was that the novel is set in my own city. However, while it's lovely reading familiar names and places, I'm not convinced that you would get a particularly vivid picture of the surroundings. Further, Brookmyre (a Glaswegian who has worked in many of the same locations as his character) likes to slip into a bit of Scots dialect that I can't promise will be too intelligible to non-natives! I can't personally mark him down for it, though, as I connected much more with this 'local' novel for just these reasons.
As far as the story goes, Brookmyre and Parlabane move you along at a brisk pace. Chapters swoop between the good guys and baddies, leaving you with a feeling that - seeing both sides of the story - you must know more than you do. However, it's only with a few explanatory flashbacks that you get the full picture, and as the pieces are drawn together the tension mounts and the pace picks up yet another gear. By the time the main players are brought together for an explosive finale, I was cheering so much for the cynical, smart-talking 'hero' that I didn't mind too much the slight over-convenience of having all the loose ends tied up.
So how would I sum up this book? How about a darkly black humoured, twisting, murder-mystery thriller of a political satire, all set in the seedy underbelly of the Edinburgh healthcare system. All that in just over 200 pages!
Brookmyre has several titles under his belt now, including at least two - Country of the Blind and Boiling a Frog - where he teams up again with Parlabane. If, like me, you've eyed up the black covers with their bright primary coloured text for some time now, drawn by the quirky titles, several recommendations, and reputation for black humour... go for it!
Paperback 214 pages (Abacus 2002)
First released 1996
Available at time of writing for £3.99 from Amazon
I have had a bad run of late with my choice of books and have been let down by some of my favorite authors churning out sub standard books so I felt it time to branch out and try something new. When I saw the title of this book I thought it might be a review of one night stands after the beer goggles have been removed but the back cover confirmed that it was the type of story I would enjoy with some good reviews so I took the plunge.
Inspector McGregor is not having a good day after wading through a large pool of vomit he is greeted by a mutilated corpse with missing fingers in a pool of blood, a vile smell from an additional deposit of vomit behind the radiator and a large turd on the mantelpiece. The victim turns out to be a surgeon from the local hospital and also a member of a powerful Edinburgh medical dynasty.
Journalist Jack Parlabane is having an equally bad start to the day, waking in the same block of flats as the victim, freshly arrived from LA and nursing a hangover at first he wrongly believes he is responsible for the vile smell until he realises that the smell comes from outside his flat, leaving to explore he accidentally locks himself out o his flat. Not wanting to meet with the police he decides to climb into his flat from the apartment next door unfortunately this is the flat of the deceased and Parlabane immediately becomes the police first suspect in the crime.
Released Parlabane begins looking into the crime and is helped by the dead victims former wife and one of the investigating officers.
This is a very good story and extremely well written. It is quite gory in places and not for the squeamish but running throughout the story is a black comedic vein that kept bringing a smile to my face.
The character development is excellent and in Jack Parlabane there is a character that is both complex and very straight forward at the same time and he is surrounded by some great bad guys. The storyline is very plausible, you only have to watch a few documentaries on corruption and double dealing to know that.
Hailing from Glasgow Brookmyre uses his understanding of the Scottish psyche to good effect to build an engaging humorous story that draws the reader in from page one. I read this book in two sittings and found it very hard to put down.
Written in 1996 it certainly stands the test of time and was an award winner for the author, I will certainly be reading more of his work and with great titles such as Boiling a Frog I cant wait.
Published by Abacus the rrp is £6.99 however I bought mine from Amazon as part of a bundle deal.
Christopher Brookmyre's debut book, 'Quite Ugly, One Morning' is a disturbingly truthful thriller, set North of the Border against a scene of blood, horror and bodily excretions. If you have a weak stomach (or a weak sense of humour) then this is not the read for you. From the very start we are thrown into the world of our hero, Jack Parlabane as he tries to uncover how he finds himself embroiled in one of the most repulsive murder that Scotland has ever seen. A famous doctor is discovered in his flat, brutally murdered, with digits missing and a massive human turd on his mantlepiece. The search begins for the killer, but as the truth emerges, our friend Jack dicovers that things are rarely what they seem, and that a simple murder enquiry can quickly turn to a horrifying conspiracy. Those familiar with the work of Brookmyre will already know of his brash, no holds barred style of writing, which can sometimes be crude, but is rarely dull. His cynicism is unrivalled and he rarely pulls punches. The most interesting thing about this book however is it's disturbing sense of reality concerning recent events. During the story, the murdered doctor's ex-wife, Dr Slaughter (What an amazing name!) reveals to Parlabane an NHS cover up of Harold Shipman/Alderhay sized proportions. This as a story is disturbing enough, but the timing of the book leaves a chill down the spine. Brookmyre won the first blood award for Crime literature with 'Quite Ugly' at the same time that our dear doctor Shipman was doing the rounds as a friendly village G.P. A Coincidence? Not when you consider that Brookmyre's latest offering on terrorism was published in the summer of 2001. It features a host of explosions,shootings and plane crashes which take place in what month, you guessed it. September. You begin to wonder.... In summary, this is a fantastic book, but not for anyone who likes a lukewarm cocoa and hours of sce
nic description with their reading. If John Woo wrote novels, this is what he would come up with. It's fast, offensive and not for the faint hearted in any way.
For New Years 1999, I went to visit a friend in Edinburgh. Since I was already coming down with a cold, we decided the best way to see in the new year would be form the top of Arthur's Seat, in a biting gale. Now with a full blown cold, I spent the next day huddled on a sofa reading "Quite Ugly One Morning", by Christopher Brookmyre. This was a quite excellent decision. Quite Ugly One Morning is the debut thriller featuring Jack Parlabane, an investigative journalist working in Glasgow. After being found breaking into a murder scene, the inimitable Jack solves the murder, catches the thief and gets the girl. Sharp, stylish and very funny, this is a stunning debut, full of memorable characters (the lesbian police constable) and cutting dialogue, though, thankfully, little attempt has been made to incorporate the (to southerners) impenetrable Glaswegian accent. If you enjoy a cracking storyline, with murder, breaking and entering, and a turd on the mantelpiece, then this book's for you.
Yeah, yeah, the usual. A crime. A corpse. A killer. Heard it. Except this stiff happens to be a Ponsonby, scion of a venerable Edinburgh medical clan, and the manner of his death speaks of unspeakable things. Why is the body displayed like a slice of beef? How come his hands are digitally challenged? And if it's not the corpse, what is that awful smell? A post-Thatcherite nightmare of frightening plausibility, QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING is a wickedly entertaining and vivacious thriller, full of acerbic wit, cracking dialogue and villains both reputed and shell- suited.