RogerBW's Blog

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, Christopher Brookmyre 11 January 2017

1999 tartan noir. Gavin Hutchison has a brilliant idea: convert an oil rig to an offshore resort hotel for xenophobic tourists, with all the comforts of home but warmer weather since it'll be moored off the African coast. What better way to show it off than by hosting a school reunion there?

Of course, this is a Brookmyre, so it won't be that simple. Other people have made plans for this event too, and the world's least competent mercenary band will be showing up to disrupt the proceedings.

"All right, now that everybody's 'on-message', perhaps we can get on with unloading the gear. Then, if we pull that off without any further casualties, we'll maybe move on to the challenge of an inventory. And if we complete that mission successfully, who knows? I might even progress to debriefing you on this evening's itinerary. But let's not get carried away with our ambitions, given that fatality-free freight-loading proved beyond us at the first attempt."

All right, Brookmyre made the traditional mistake of not talking to anyone who knew guns; he continually refers to Uzis as "machine guns" (some of the mercenaries prefer an "Ingram's"), and the preferred handgun is a "Nagan". That's sloppy, and for me makes a sudden ethical move by one of the mercenaries less convincing too. But mostly this is a farce with automatic weapons and bodily-function humour (in that Brookmyrean style which makes it actually interesting rather than just a deliberate attempt to shock), in which the Bad People get what they so very obviously deserve.

"And, Catherine, if you've any regard for me or my children at all, I'll be expecting your full cooperation when I name you in the divorce."

"You got it," she said, her eyes still hypnotised by the pump-action mistress-dispatcher.

The real theme of this book, I think, is how some people have managed to move on from their school days in the 1980s and others haven't. Gavin chose his current mistress not because of anything she is now, but because back in the day she was the most-desired girl in the class, and now he can show her off to his old schoolmates. Davie Murdoch, junior psychopath who ended up putting another boy in a wheelchair, has done his time and claims to have reformed; maybe it's even true. And Matt Black, comedian who's sold out for a sitcom gig, finds himself fixated on his teenage crush. This is a theme Brookmyre revisits in later books (particularly A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil and Flesh Wounds), though here at least some of the people have some hope of getting off the tracks that their school days set them on.

His now-fiancée (oh, how he loved that word) elaborated that it was an important and time-observed custom for the groom-to-be to undergo a night out so thoroughly ghastly and traumatic that he would wish to spend the rest of his life exclusively in the company of someone who hadn't been there. She then concluded that she could think of no occasion more convenient or appropriate than Gavin Hutchison's school-reunion party.

The story is very much in the tradition of action films (with occasional Greek-choral comments from the film fan among the cast), but follows multiple viewpoints in a way that would make it hard actually to render on screen. (One of them, Hector McGregor returning from Quite Ugly One Morning, is frankly a bit superfluous.) But it's never difficult to switch tracks and pick up again what this particular person's situation and problems are.

Looking back I can see the roots of the cracks that would spoil Brookmyre's later writing when he indulged them, but this is the author near the top of his game.

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See also:
Flesh Wounds, Chris Brookmyre

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 01:15pm on 11 January 2017

    This was the first Brookmyre I read, and it's a good place to start, though I agree he's lost it now.

    There is an essential postscript to the book, Brookmyre's article in reaction to somebody actually doing a similar project:

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