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by Christopher Brookmyre
Atlantic Monthly Press, May 2015
377 pages
ISBN: 0802123643

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

We've not seen Jack Parlabane in an awfully long time. Indeed, it's been about eight years since that sometimes unscrupulous, always principled journalist, indelibly associated with various body parts and random excreta, has made an appearance. Now he is back, diminished by a series of professional and personal disasters, and happy to be asked by an old friend to take on a discreet investigation into the disappearance of rising folk rock star. Heike Gunn, daughter of a German woman and a well-known Scottish artist, was raised on Islay and is now on tour in Europe with her band, Savage Earth Heart, prior to what is slated to be a major breakthrough in the United States. Except no one knows where she is, not even Monica Halcrow, the young fiddle player who recently joined the band and whom Heike has grown very close to. And now even Monica is not to be found.

The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Monica's extensive blog entries that detail the events leading up to Heike's disappearance, and the third person account of Parlabane's investigation. It's the sort of slightly self-conscious device that has recently become rather fashionable. It does have the advantage of allowing Monica, a largely inexperienced and somewhat naive young woman who grew up on Shetland and is finding the whole experience of life on tour somewhat overwhelming, to speak for herself. But the reader who becomes caught up in the tension and suspense of Parlabane's investigation might feel a bit thwarted at the cutaways from the chase to the past events that lead up to it.

When Jack Parlabane first appeared on the scene almost twenty years ago, his exploits were outrageous, often rude, and decidedly preposterous to a delightful degree. Unusually for this sort of adventure, however, were the female characters who, from the beginning, always had more to them than the attractive poppets that frequently decorate this sort of fiction. And from book to book, the female characters have taken up more and more space and demanded more respect. (My favourite is Jane Bell, from ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE, who went from a young grandmother who could hoover for Britain to a fierce mother fighting to save her son.) Finally, Brookmyre turned from the action thriller to a three-book (so far) private investigator series starring Jasmine Sharpe and Detective Catherine McLeod of Glasgow, a solid series but one lacking the extravagance of the earlier books.

Now Brookmyre appears to be working his way back a bit to the earlier novels. Parlabane here is chastened and older (mid-forties). He is excluded from half the book (from Monica's blog where the developing relationship between Monica and Heike is sensitively unfolded). While he can pull off the occasional sensational effect, this time they no longer involve softer body parts. And most of the way, he is accompanied by his employer, the group's manager Mairi Lafferty, who at one point makes a spectacular escape with Jack while wearing Louboutins.

By the end, it would appear that Parlabane has permanently lost all possibility of returning to the journalism he loved so dearly. But happily, another prospect opens up for him and with it the promise of a further, though equally hazardous career, one that gives all of us who enjoy the occasional over the top adventure something to look forward to. In an interview in Herald Scotland earlier this year, Brookmyre remarked that he is working developing a complex female villain. " "People kept telling me that that was missing from my work. But it certainly won't be a scenario where it's a helpless woman and a man to the rescue." But if she is confronted by Parlabane, that will be a treat.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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