Fiction – March 2020

For some unknown reason, the switch to home working and being in lockdown mode has also resulted in me reading less fiction. My non-fiction reading has increased though I have resisted the urge to bone up on things related to coronavirus.

Second in the (excellent) Challis & Destry police procedural series set, largely, in the Mornington Peninsula area in Australia,

This outing for the police has them dealing with several weird incidents: there’s the dead body fished out of the ocean, sprees of stolen cars and burned letter boxes, someone attacking courting couples in their car, and the attempted ramming of  a plane by a car. Quite a handful.

The author does a great job of tying the strands together to bring the reader a believable picture of life in that part of the world, with interesting characters and their various brushes with danger.

Highly recommended.

 

This is a terrific crime caper with twist after twist featuring intrepid investigative journalist Jack Parlabane. He is asked by a dead man’s sister to look into his death in a car crash on a deserted road that occurred within months of his whirlwind romance with Diana Jager, a surgeon and blogger whose anonymity was ripped away from her, sending her in to medical Coventry.  Parlabane’s inquiries inevitably start a chain of events that will keep you on your toes and guessing till the very end.

Terrific.

 

Number three in the Challis and Destry series. Janine McQuarrie, a young wife and mother, is shot to death. and killed. Did the murder have anything to do with the wife swapping party she recently attended at the behest of her husband? And why does her father-in-law, Superintendent McQuarrie, seem to be so obstructive in Challis’s investigation? Again, the author delivers a well drawn scene and populates with interesting characters and intriguing interaction. This is in the top rank of police procedural novels.

 

Number four in the Challis and Destry series. Inspector Hal Challis returns to his hometown in the Australian Outback. His father is dying and his sister, whose husband disappeared years before, is doing her best to care for the man. Challis splits his time between helping with his father and looking into his brother-in-law’s disappearance. In the course of his investigation, he duly stirs up a hornet’s nest.

Meantime, Sergeant Ellen Destry, his potential love interest, is trying to prove she is good enough to run the Crime Investigation Unit on her own. Unfortunately, in a less than friendly environment, she also has the horrendous task of trying to find a little girl who has disappeared amidst all the consequent media attention and pressure.

The two strands mean there’s a bit of to and fro for the reader to cope with, but the inconvenience is modest and the payoff is another good read.

 

Be My Enemy – Chris Brookmyre

More Jack Parlabane cynicism and biting wit in action against the big, bad world of business, vested interests, and exclusion. This time around, our quirky hero is on an actual journalistic assignment: to participate in a corporate team building event, and report on his experiences. The beautiful setting and initial enthusiasm of actually enjoying the activity fade quickly as something deadly intrudes, and it becomes clear that this is no bland exercise, but a fight to the very death.

The supporting characters have some surprisingly good scene stealing appearances, although I did feel that some were a bit telegraphed. There are also some references to previous happenings, so if you have not read the other books you may be missing out. It does stand on its own, though, and the side details are not critical.

The story features some of the author’s trademark political posturing, with a wonderful balance between the downright hilarious, and the genuinely shocking. Brookmyre is very skillful at drawing the reader in, taking the reader to unexpected places, offering up some thrills, spills, and twists, and delivering first class entertainment. This book is very much of that ilk until about the last 10% where I rather felt the buzz had gone, and Brookmyre just wanted to finish up and get done with the book. So, not his best, but still terrific fun and well worth reading.

Country of the Blind – Chris Brookmyre

Classic Jack Parlabane material: a powerful media owner and his bodyguards are slaughtered, and public outrage leads to an angry manhunt for the crew allegedly responsible. But one young naive solicitor has an envelope in her possession, handed over by one of the accused before the event. What’s in the envelope, and why does she say it proves the men’s innocence? Whatever the questions were before, there are many more after the men are arrested and then escape custody. Parlabane can smell a conspiracy, and he is just the man to root it out.

This is a cracking story of crime and corruption, told with Brookmyre’s usual biting wit (he really doesn’t like the Tories) and action packed narrative. I’m glad I decided to fill in the gaps in the Parlabane series and this, so far , is one of the best.

Dead Girl Walking – Chris Brookmyre

dead-girl-walking

Somehow or other, despite liking the author’s Jack Parlabane books, I missed out on a couple, and lost touch. I am now putting that right thanks to Amazon and the Book Depository.

Parlabane is (or was) an investigative journalist. Now out of work, and under investigation by the forces of law and order for possibly being involved in the theft of state secrets, he takes on a sort of private eye role for a pop band manageress. She, the younger sister of one of Parlabane’s now deceased friends, is just about to start a USA tour with her group. The problem is, the star of the group – Heike Gunn – has gone missing. Can Parlabane use his usual resourcefulness and disregard for the law to find the star before the public find out, and before Parlabane ends up inside?

The book gives us Parlabane’s perspective – told in the third person – and the first person perspective of Monica, a recent addition to the band who becomes close to Heike. The twin narratives are different in style, too, and you get very different experiences of the plot unfolding because of this. Although some of the twists were a bit obvious, Brookmyre still has more up his sleeve, and more than enough to satisfy this reader.

There’s a good mix of humor and tension, with atmospheric descriptions of the rock and roll touring world, a band in conflict, and the jealousies that success can cause. Throughout it all, regardless of perspective, the writing is slick, smooth, and confident.

A pretty damn good read.

Oh, and one thing’s for sure: the author hates Starbucks. If you read the book, you will know what I mean.

This is Glesca

‘This is Glesca,’ Moira told her. ‘Any time you’re confused, take a wee minute to remind yourself of that inescapable fact: this is Glesca. We don’t do subtle, we don’t do nuanced, we don’t do conspiracy. We do pish-heid bampot bludgeoning his girlfriend to death in a fit of paranoid range induced by forty-eight hours straight on the batter. We do coked-up neds jumping on a guy’s heid outside a nightclub because he looked at them funny. We do drug-dealing gangster rockets shooting other drug-dealing gangster rockets as comeback for something almost identical a fortnight ago. We do bam-on-bam. We do tit-for-tat, score-settling, feuds, jealousy, petty revenge. We do cannaemisswhodunnit. When you hear hoofbeats on Sauchielhall Street, it’s gaunny be a horse, no’ a zebra, because?’

‘This is Glesca,’ she answered.

In case you were wondering:

(1) “Glesca” is how some people pronounce “Glasgow” in the native dialect. (The emphasis is on “native”.)

(2) The passage is taken from Chris Brookmyre‘s wonderful Where the Bodies are Buried, reviewed by me, here.