The select few of you who regularly visit my blog will realise that in addition to my passion for speculative fiction, one of my other weaknesses is crime. I came across this gem in the library one rainy day last week and it has brightened my life ever since.
Do you believe in ghosts? Do we really live on in some conscious form after we die, capable of communicating with the world of the living?
Aye, right. That was Jack Parlabane’s stance on the matter, anyway. But this was before he found himself in the more compromising position of being not only dead himself, but dead with an exclusive still to file. From his position on high, Parlabane relates the events leading up to his demise, concerning the efforts of charismatic psychic Gabriel Lafayette to reconcile the scientific with the spiritual by submitting to controlled laboratory tests.
Parlabane is brought in as an observer, due to his capacities as both a sceptic and an expert on deception, but his certainties crumble and his assumptions turn upside down as he encounters phenomena for which he can deduce no rational explanation. One thing he knows for certain, however: death is not the end – it’s the ultimate undercover assignment.
The investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane, who sort of solves this crime, has appeared in four previous Brookmyre novels. He leaps off the page with all the force of Robbie Coltrayne’s Cracker – and with as many opinions, which he doesn’t shy away from sharing with the rest of us. So, in addition to enjoying a really well-crafted thriller with a number of BIG surprises that I didn’t see coming, I was also treated to a series of intelligent discussions on the nature of belief, its impact on society and how it can be used to exploit victims when they are extremely vulnerable.
While I am not sure that Parlabane voices all of Brookmyre’s beliefs, it is an intriguing change to come across a fictional crime-fighter with an instinctive dislike and distrust of the Establishment. Also refreshing to have said argumentative, awkward customer in a strong marriage… Brookmyre has cited Ford Prefect from Douglas Adam’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as his inspiration for Parlabane, commenting, ‘I always adored the idea of a character who cheerfully wanders into enormously dangerous situations and effortlessly makes them much worse.’
As I’ve mentioned, the plot is exceptionally well crafted. The setting – contemporary Scotland – works very well, and so it should, seeing as its Brookmyre’s own stamping ground. His cast of characters are strongly depicted with convincing backgrounds, so when he shifts into the alternative viewpoints, they are as equally compelling as Parlabane. Despite the fact that this is a reasonably substantial read with plenty of musing about the state of the world, at no point did it drag. This is a skilful, intelligent writer, who manages to deliver the whole package with energy, verve and absolute confidence. The book won the 2007 Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Writing. I’m not surprised – by any benchmark, it is an outstanding read.