RogerBW's Blog

Flesh Wounds, Chris Brookmyre 27 August 2015

2013 thriller, third in Brookmyre's Glasgow crime series. Jasmine Sharp's protector, the vanished and reappeared gang enforcer Glen Fallan, is arrested for the murder of his old enemy Stevie Fullerton; DS Catherine McLeod is happy to see Fallan put away, but wants to do this by the book, and there are disturbing inconsistencies.

This book is the story that I had expected to be the second half of Where the Bodies are Buried, the first in this series (which I read in 2012): Jasmine tries to discover the family history that her mother kept hidden from her, and people out of the past turn up again. Indeed, there's a strong sense not only of old scores but of inevitability: as in A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, minor events of the past seem to have a cast-iron grip on the future, and plenty of people are just running along the tracks laid down for them twenty-five years ago.

And this may explain why I found When the Devil Drives curiously directionless: this, it seems, is the real story, and that one was just marking time and giving Jasmine a bit of experience after her newness to the job in the first book. This is a story of Glasgow gang bosses, betrayal, and lots of murder.

It's also a story of multiple viewpoints: not just Jasmine Sharp and Catherine McLeod, but of Catherine's subordinates (with a heavy-handed emotional subplot that's introduced in one scene, carried on without change, and resolved in the last), Glen Fallan himself, and an unnamed girl on a farm who wants to go to veterinary school. There's meant to be a bit of mystery about her relationship to the rest of the story, but a huge clue dropped in one of the other sections makes it very clear quite early on.

There are plenty of flashbacks to significant moments in the Glasgow underworld, and many mysteries would be far more obvious if the story were told in order, or we could see why viewpoint characters react in particular ways to things rather than being deliberately deceived (I'm thinking particularly of Pngurevar naq gur bevtva bs gur tnat flzoby). I felt there was just a little too much artifice about that, with information hidden from the reader but not from characters in the book purely to make a good story, rather than having a sufficiently interesting series of events to write about in the first place. There is something of a mystery here (the killing of Stevie Fullerton), but with a distinctly small pool of suspects the question is mostly how it was set up, and why just then, rather than whodunnit.

Jasmine Sharp is a bit less blasted wet than last time round, which is good. There's less of McLeod's interactions with her husband and children, and more of her personality, which is better. Most of the technical stuff works this time too, though there's a bit of sleight of hand with a SIM card that I found rather unconvincing. Pace, as before, is sometimes glacial, but Brookmyre's writing is interesting enough that I mostly don't mind. There's an awful lot of emphasis on husbands and fathers rather than on the women who are nominally the protagonists, probably inevitable in an old-fashioned criminal worldview but a disappointment compared with the previous two books.

This is not the classic Brookmyre, and it's not as good as that was: yeah, people throw up when they've done or seen something distinctly upsetting, but I've read Quite Ugly One Morning and I remember the Most Disgusting Crime Scene Ever. There's nothing here on a par with that. All the same, Brookmyre's new voice has bedded in a bit, and this is good quality reading in a way that the first two weren't. I'd nonetheless strongly recommend reading Where the Bodies are Buried before this one, to build up the emotional capital that this book spends.

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