RogerBW's Blog

A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, Christopher Brookmyre 12 April 2017

2001 tartan noir. What's the connection between new teacher and new father Ray Ash, and international terrorist-for-hire The Black Spirit? Rather more than one might suspect.

This book gets off to a slow start, and indeed a false one: giving a series of narratives of people who might be interesting enough to be protagonists, but who turn out to be victims of terrorist attacks; it's an emotional trick that is effective, but it's still an emotional trick. In fact there are two main viewpoints for the rest of the book, Ray and the Black Spirit, with a tertiary one from the policewoman Angelique de Xavia (who deserves more story than she has here, and would get it in The Sacred Art of Stealing).

He was probably just giving a passable impression of calm to mask an unprecedented level of personal terror, but if so that made two of them, and she knew all it would take was for him to lose the place and her 'experienced professional' front would collapse too.

This book is something of a love letter to several of the same first-person shooters that I played: Duke Nukem 3-D, Quake and Half-Life. Ray has recently sold a not very successful LAN café, and FPSes have been his recreation for years; they seem to have given him an acute tactical sense, not to mention a nifty climactic moment (even if neither ryrpgevpvgl abe jrgfhvgf work like that in real life).

Unfortunately the book's theme fights with the book itself. A large part of Brookmyre's point is that even a non-ideological terrorist or assassin is not a Really Cool Guy but just another sort of loser, which is fair enough; but then we end up spending large amounts of time in the Black Spirit's head. So either we agree with Brookmyre's thesis and find this a tedious place to be, or we don't and the whole book falls apart. As often with Brookmyre, characters in their thirties are firmly set on the tracks they got onto in their younger days, and just have to hope they chose well; the book feels weighted towards the old days more than the present, though once all the flashbacks have been got through the pace picks up and things get rather more interesting. A couple of schoolchildren are in a sense superfluous, but in Greek Chorus style they stand in for Murphy's Law and the ability even of things that cannot go wrong to go wrong at the worst possible time.

Athletic ability only counted for something if it was one of the in'crowd that had it; hence the hundred metres was a big deal in first and second year when Maggie Hanley won it. When the wee darkie girl with the funny name won it in third year, it was because Maggie wasn't interested in 'that wee lassie stuff' any more (though the wee darkie girl with the funny name remembered Maggie looking pretty fucking interested as she overtook her with ten metres to go).

This is more of Brookmyre on form, even if he still hasn't learned what a machine gun is; recommended, and a decent entry point to good Brookmyre generally. Followed, loosely, by The Sacred Art of Stealing.

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