RogerBW's Blog

Be My Enemy, Christopher Brookmyre 26 January 2017

2004 tartan noir. Jack Parlabane is invited to the junket weekend of a new firm that plans to run team-building retreats with a twist. But that twist is going to turn out to be rather more twisted than anyone expects.

In fact this is in some respects a re-run of One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night: a group of people in an isolated location is attacked, for reasons that are not at first obvious, by a group of not entirely competent, but well-equipped, military types. But this time the location is a Scottish manor house, and the people and the reasons are quite different.

Because this is a Parlabane book, and that means Brookmyre's take on politics. This is never what one might call subtle, though here he does at least admit that the radical smash-things-up lefties of the 1980s may have been as wrong as the radical smash-things-up righties. It's a curious mixture of thoroughly grown-up thinking about the benefits of the rule of law with reflexive hatred of anything with the "wrong" party's label on it.

But this is also a tartan noir period Brookmyre, so it includes cannibalism, vomiting, an awful lot of decapitation, a flamethrower, and a truly disgusting climbing rope (though I'm not at all convinced that it would actually work). Fortunately nobody's using guns this time: it's all blades, for reasons which largely make sense, so there's no gun detail to be got wrong… even if a rapier is described as having a tremendously sharp blade; well, some of them did. On the other hand, a key plot point is that mobile phones won't work at all, even for emergency calls, with the SIM cards removed; I know that isn't true of 3G phones, which were available in 2004, and to the best of my recollection it wasn't true of 2G phones either…

That's not the important stuff, though. The important stuff is the people; they're all well developed eventually, though this is left quite late in some cases, leading to a confusion as to just who's who which didn't happen in One Fine Day even though the cast here is rather smaller. I think a key difference is that everyone's in the same group and situation, rather than being split up as they were in the other book, so context is of no use in remembering who's who, and most of them use pretty much the same style of speech. Which one's Toby again? And why does Kathy do nothing but patch people up and scream?

Most importantly, this is the book where the recurring character of Tim "Death's Dark" Vale finally gets a significant amount of narrative time. He's mentioned occasionally in other Brookmyres, and has a minor role in One Fine Day, but here, quite clearly, things would have gone extremely differently if he hadn't been on site. Frankly I found him rather more interesting than Parlabane and I could have done with more books about him. (There are references to Parlabane's earlier cases, which reveal the resolutions of Country of the Blind and Quite Ugly One Morning; you don't need to have read those books before reading this, but you won't enjoy them as much if you read them for the first time afterwards.)

It's the villains that really fail to satisfy; they're the least-developed of the lot, and they never quite seem to make sense even on their own terms. They're comic-book characters trying to function in a universe that's generally rather closer to the real world. Perhaps as a result, none of the puzzles is particularly challenging; where One Fine Day let us find out what was going on as the protagonists did, here the solutions are spoon-fed to us well in advance.

It's still jolly good, but cracks are definitely showing. Followed in the Parlabane series by Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks.

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