Black Widow, by Christopher Brookmyre

25149226A new Chris Brookmyre is always cause for celebration round these parts, doubly so when it’s a Jack Parlabane novel. Black Widow is a fast and gripping read, cleverly put together with a cast of characters that are interesting and / or likeable. The slapstick grand guignol humour of Brookymre’s earlier funnier stuff now seems to be permanently MIA, but this is still quietly witty, and unafraid to offer a mordant chuckle at some very bleak events.

Diana Jager is a surgeon with a controversial past who finds herself the chief suspect in the disappearance of her husband. Journalist Parlabane is at the lowest of ebbs, newly divorced with a career in the toilet. He is engaged by the husband’s sister to find out exactly what happened, and as is his wont, starts tugging on all manner of loose threads until the sweater is completely ruined.

Diana is a hunter twice over, in name at least. She’s cool, calm, ruthless when she needs to be and not afraid to break rules if she benefits. But is she a murderer? You will probably change your mind half a dozen times as you progress through this very well constructed book, until you reach the ending and are forced straight back to the beginning to reread the early chapters in a new light. The clues Brookmyre scatters throughout are clever enough that you’ll pat yourself on the back for catching them, while all the time you’re missing what’s really going on. Not unlike Jack Parlabane himself.

Deaths aside, this is a story all about relationships, marriage, and the myriad ways two people can mess each other up. I’m not sure there’s one happy couple in the book (although there are a few hopeful signs by the end). I found myself genuinely concerned for the author while reading it, as the descriptions of life after a disintegrating marriage had a painful ring of truth to them. I hope he’s just got a good imagination.


All Involved, by Ryan Gattis

25686263This terrific book should become a modern crime classic. Set on the fringes of the 1992 LA riots, it’s the story of Latino gangs using the city meltdown and the desperate overstretching of enforcement agencies to settle their own scores. It’s told as a series of vignettes over six days, each focusing on a particular character. These characters then appear in each other’s stories, giving rise to a polyphonic evocation of just how utterly messed up gang culture is. Revenge leads to revenge, death leads to death, and it’s only a lucky few who can escape the bloody downward spiral.  This is thrilling, visceral, graphic stuff, a sledgehammer of a book that kept me turning the pages quicker and quicker. All you people who lapped up The Wire need to get on board with this one. Brilliant.