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BRED IN THE BONE
by Christopher Brookmyre
Atlantic Monthly Press, May 2014
416 pages
$24.00
ISBN: 0802122477


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Jasmine Sharp/Catherine McLeod series has now reached book number three and its maturity. Here the parallel plot lines involving the two women (who, incidentally, do not especially like or trust one another) converge, secrets from the past are revealed, vulnerabilities exposed, and generally the enterprise takes on a depth and seriousness not previously realized. But do not panic - it is still a witty novel, just one with a very dark underpinning.

Jasmine Sharp, you may remember, is a private detective, a profession she did not so much adopt as have thrust upon her by her uncle whose agency she inherited. Catherine McLeod is a Detective Superintendent with the Glasgow police, recovering from having been passed over for a promotion to a job she thought she very much wanted but now suspects she was lucky to escape. Their two paths will come together in time over the murder of Stevie Fullerton, a powerful Glaswegian gangster now dead in a carwash. The man accused of the hit is Glen Fallan, who, oddly, has created a kind of mentorship with Jasmine, despite the fact that he killed her father years earlier, a father about whom she knows nothing except his first name. (His last was not Sharp.) Jasmine's mother is dead and anyone who knows anything about her father refuses to talk. He had, it appears, some connection with organized crime in Glasgow, but what precisely is unclear.

Catherine too has a past, but not one the reader will learn about until well into the book. There is, however, something disturbing about the murdered Stevie that unsettles Catherine and worries her deeply.

While I enjoyed the first novel in the series, I did rather miss the extravagance of Brookmyre's previous excursions, especially Jane Bell's exploits in ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE, which is why I never quite got around to reading number two in this series, a lapse that I now regret. But now in number three, Brookmyre seems to have got all his characters going where he wants them to and can allow himself just a bit of the old over-the-top violence and scatological humour of the earlier books. There's even one stray jobbie as a bit of nostalgia.

Brookmyre has always known how to move a story forward but in this book he demonstrates that he also knows how to build character. Both Jasmine and Catherine grow over the course of the story and we are privy to their thoughts and doubts as they do. Brookmyre has an extraordinary ability to convey body language and movement so that his characters exist in a three-dimensional space. It almost seems as though he is not so much inventing them as describing what he has seen them do.

The narrative alternates between Jasmine and Catherine, but also between past and present. It's a risky approach since in less sure hands, the past history can overtake the present story and slow it to a crawl. But Brookmyre once again knows precisely what he is doing. Here the past invades the present and shapes it so that events that occurred thirty or more years earlier are as relevant as those that are happening now. Brookmyre has taken Faulkner's observation that the past is never dead, it's not even past very much to heart.

This book appears to be the conclusion to what has turned out to be a trilogy, though the reader can be forgiven for not knowing that until the final page is turned. That page does point the way forward to new possibilities on the Glaswegian crime front, but the issues raised in the previous novels are satisfyingly resolved and we have the impression of a finished body of work. For this reason, readers are strongly urged to begin at the beginning with WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED and go on to WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES before embarking on BRED IN THE BONE. They won't regret it for a minute.

A final note: BRED IN THE BONE first appeared in the UK last summer as FLESH WOUNDS, so do not be confused. Further muddying the waters, Brookmyre published his first fifteen or so books as Christopher; when he inaugurated this series, he became Chris and so he remains in the UK. On this side of the Atlantic, however, he is still Christopher. Under either name, he is splendid.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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