Sunday, 31 January 2010

It's A Bad World - Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

I've never been a fan of crime fiction, it tends to be about leading to definitive answers, and that's not what I like in my literature. Brookmyre's my one great exception. He kind of sneaked up on me, constantly mentioned by friends who shared similar tastes as a top read. SO I picked up a copy of A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away and... yeah, you know where this is going. Smart, snarky, lurid, pop culture literate, angry and energetic - it was wonderfully bracing, a jolt to the system, a literary defibrillator. Probably too lowbrow to be considered for high faluting literary prizes but sod that, this was relentlessly entertaining stuff. And I've been dawdling through his back catalogue ever since, eventually working my way back to the start.

A word of warning, Broomkmyre's as proudly and defiantly Scottish as Irvine Welsh. It permeates Brookmyre's outlook, from his politics, through the humour and right through to the language. With the often phonetically rendered slang this couldn't happen anywhere but Edinburgh, an Edinburgh that's more colourful and vivid than Welsh's more self-absorbed books allows.

Brookmyre's an energetic writer at the best of times, and Quite Ugly One Morning turns up that energy to eleven. It's got the unpredictability, vitality and occasional crudeness of all the best debuts have, the sheer glee of someone finally let loose in a literary sandpit. It's in your face from the start, with a vivid description of a horrific crime scene, the horror undercut by judicious employment of human bodily waste. And Brookmyre's caustic humour's there from that start, the police officers almost slapstick in their attempts to get through a huge puddle of vomit. Quite literally stomach churning but an instant hook, and welcome light years away from the trend for forensic descriptions that leave you feeling nothing. Brookmyre's demands that you care, that you at least get a sense of horror from the gore he often employs (the macabre mutilations inflicted on Mortlake here are wince inducing, almost making the character sympathetic despite his actions).

Other familiar Brookmyre tropes are present and correct. My views on the Margaret Thatcher's Tory regime chime with the author's, so I'm happy to go along with the richly deserved kicking he hands to the Thatcherist ideology and those who follow it. The anti-Tory rage (namechecking Thatcher, Tebbit and Virginia Bottomley) dates the book a little, but it's always good to have a reminder of what a vile self serving regime it was. Main villain Stephen Lime is the grotesque villain embodying Establishment cancers that Brookmyre excels at, from his name (Stephen Lime, S Lime, geddit?) to his ultra capitalist outlook. Brookmyre's exceptional at getting inside his mindset and imbuing him with a certain humanity without ever leaving the reader in any doubt that he's Thatcherite scum. In that sense Brookmyre's almsot a Biblically moralistic writer, with the good and bad guys clearly labelled up and ending up receiving their just desserts. It'd be preachily simplistic but for the pissed off black humour that gives the book its energy.

Parlabane himself isn't a memorable creation on the face of it, a slightly seedy bundle of one liners and handy abilities who acts as the Angel of Vengeance to Brookmyre's authorial God. But it's the flashes of background we get that brings him to life, hangovers, hitmen and hotel room shagging. It's the details, the texture that make him memorable. He's a moral journalist who's learned the hard way that things are not always as they seem and powerful people are, by and large, absolute bastards. Like Roger Cook, but likable and with added hubris and understanding of the bigger picture. Sometimes his resources strains credibility, such as his former shag from Companies House, but Parlabane's undoubtedly a man who'd exploit every possible asset and have all sorts of strange contacts. In a Brookmyre book, what might seem outlandish is just part of the circus.

And one more reason to love it? If you take the 'One' in the title in Roman numeral form the initials of the title spell 'quim'. Yeah, it's not big but it's clever and, most importantly, funny.

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