Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil

by Christopher Brookmyre

I finished Brookmyre's Country of the Blind in record time, and went to choose another book to read. There's Bennett, Chabon, Christie, Holt, Jackson, Lodge, McCarthy and Wodehouse on my To Be Read shelf, all of whom are somewhere between LIKED and ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE I WOULD DEFEND IN AN ACTUAL PHYSICAL FIGHT.

But instead of any of those, I picked the other Brookmyre I had on there. It's not because he's better than the others, though I think he's there or thereabouts (as football pundits say.) It's because he's addictive. I think the pages are laced with something. Didn't they used to make paper out of hemp? Eh?

They did.

But that's probably not the point. What's addictive is the particular mixture of convoluted plots, smart and funny prose, yadda yadda yadda (as football pundits say.)

It's a unique blend, and it works, and it has a downfall. The downfall is that after reading only two of his novels, I was beginning to think Brookmyre was a one-trick pony. But when that trick is simply BEING AWESOME, it's sort of all right. But still a little disappointing. (But still all right.)

So imagine how happy I was when A Tale Etched In Blood Etc Etc turned out to be a bit different. (If you need help imagining my happy-face, just tell your nearest five-year-old that when he grows up he will be able to go into shops and buy a load of sweets, whenever he wants, and 50p will not be a huge deal at all.)

It's still got the standard Brookmyre plot, but calling one of those standard is like accusing one of Faberge's eggs of not being free range. When you're staring at one, it sounds like the least intelligent criticism this side of 'if people evolved from apes, why are there still apes around?'

The difference is all down to the other half of this book. Split between the present day unravelling mystery/police case/nasty murders is the year-by-year story of most of the main players in school together, from the first day of school to the leavers prom.

The childhood Brookmyre conjures up is excellent. It has some of the sweet detail of Roddy Doyle, though without the perspective. Instead of that, the focus is wider, and each step in the loss of innocence is examined, wistfully but never nostalgically. There's also the best explanation of Playgroud Football I have ever come across, which Brookmyre put in separate essay form.

But not only are the childhood years strong, they interweave with the current day drama like a double helix, the two narratives borrowing off each other then blending for a pair of climaxes.

It's still unquestionably Brookmyre, and the question still lingers about how far from his (admirable) comfort zone he can stretch, but this is a good sign he enjoys changing it up as much as I did.

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