As I’ve been telling you, I am behind sharing my reviews, and I’ve decided to offer you some readings that are not the typical of the season, in case you’re looking for something different, either for yourselves or as a present for others.
If you’re not looking for reading material, feel free to pass on the posts, as I’m sure you’ll be busy this week, but just in case, I’ll post one review per day (more or less). I’m thinking about making some changes to the blog and I have a book coming out next week, so I’ll likely take some time off at the beginning of the year to rethink my blogging, but I’ll try and share the reviews in the meantime.
First, a review of a book by a writer I love and whose books I’ve been reading for quite a few years.
Black Widow. A Jack Parlabane Thriller by Christopher Brookmyre. Women, surgery, love, and mystery, Scottish style.
Atlantic Monthly Press
Winner of the 2016 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish crime book of the year
There is no perfect marriage. There is no perfect murder.
From Scottish crime master Christopher Brookmyre, Black Widow tells the potent story of a woman who thought she was too late for love, the man who falls for her ambition, and the secret selves that are poised, at any moment, to end everything.
Diana Jager is clever, strong, and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism in medicine. Yet it takes only hours for her life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing. Then she meets Peter. He is kind, generous, and knows nothing about her past—the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairy-tale romance. But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairy tales, and tasks rogue reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media is calling the Black Widow.
Still on the mend from his own relationship wounds after a turbulent divorce, Jack’s investigation into matters of the heart takes him to hidden places no one should ever have to go.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I have read several books written by Christopher Brookmyre years back and I loved them. I discovered him by picking up The Secret Art of Stealing at Liverpool Airport on the strength of reading the description and a few lines. The book had me laughing out loud within a few pages, and since then I’ve read a few of his novels, although I haven’t followed any of his series in full. I couldn’t resist the chance to catch up with his newest book, although I hadn’t read any of the other novels in the Parlabane series. And he delivered once more.
I loved this book. There were the funny and witty moments the author had me accustomed to (although it is, by no means, his funniest book), the complex and tri-dimensional characters, the Scottish background, the complex plot with twist and turns that keep you guessing. I particularly liked the different points-of-view used to tell the story. Two of the points of views (although one only very briefly) are narrated in the first person, and the rest, including Parbalane’s and the female detective’s, are in the third person. I am fascinated by narrators and their roles in novels, and the way Brookmyre uses the different voices and points-of-view in this novel is a beautiful illustration of how the different options can be put to the best of uses. We get to see the same facts and events from different points of views, some directly involved in them, some who are investigating or being told the same, some at the time and some recounting what happened some time ago. Brookmyre puts the brains of his readers to the test, making them try to create a single consistent story from the different versions of events and different timelines, a bit like trying to complete the picture in a jigsaw puzzle from the disparate pieces. The story is cleverly composed sharing clues that wrong-foot us often, and we keep changing our minds as to our sympathies, suspects, and who the goodies and the baddies are. I can honestly say I kept trying to work out if I was being taken for a ride by the narrators or if I was just being given very partial accounts of the events.
It’s difficult to talk in detail about this novel without giving any spoilers away. Being a doctor, and a woman, I felt particularly drawn to one the characters, the female surgeon who tells her version of the story in the first person, Diana Jager. She is by no means perfect and due to her determined actions has come to be feared and disliked, but I empathised with her experiences and her feelings about the career and the inherent difficulties women have to face (I remember as a medical student training in a hospital where one of the surgery firms would not take on female trainees, the only female surgeon with a regular post was known to be the lover of one of the surgeons and never did a day’s surgery in several months I was there, and among women the accepted wisdom was that women had to work twice as hard as men to get less than half the way up the ladder than they did. I hope things have changed since but I’m not confident). But the rest of the characters are equally interesting and non-standard. Although as I mentioned I haven’t read any of the previous Parlabane’s mysteries, I didn’t find that was an impediment to my enjoyment of the book, although I’m sure those who follow the series might enjoy it even more (if that’s possible).
The story is dynamically told, and if anything, I thought it accelerates towards the end (as is usually the case when we see the resolution coming). I can’t say I saw what was going to happen from the beginning, although I sometimes beat Parlabane to the post, but just by little. I enjoyed the cleverness of the story and the way was written too. A case of form perfectly matching content.
An involved and intriguing story, beautifully told, full of local detail and complex characters, that reflects on serious themes and will keep you guessing until the end, recommended to lovers of mysteries and thrillers. Another great book by Brookmyre.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Grove Atlantic for the copy of the book (and to Christopher Brookmyre. Happily I have the ARC of the next novel already), thanks to all of you for reading, and do like, share, comment, and CLICK! And Merry Xmas!