A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #29:-
A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY
Abacus pb, 502pp, £9.99
Raymond Ash is a school teacher, a responsible man with a wife and baby depending on him. His dreams of fame as a rock star are firmly in the past. Then one day, loitering at Glasgow Airport, Ray sees his old ‘friend’ Simon, a prima donna he used to be in a student band with. There’s only one problem: Simon died three years ago when terrorists blew up the plane he was travelling on. For Ray it’s the start of an adventure for which his computer game skills have ideally equipped him , one that brings him together with policewoman Angel X in a fight against the world’s leading terrorist, ‘the Black Spirit’.
Recent events have given Brookmyre’s novel an unhappy topicality and it has perhaps the worst opening sequence I’ve ever read, the whiny, egotistical rant of an embryonic terrorist that almost had me abandoning the book by page twenty, but fortunately I persevered and was rewarded with a fast paced and credible crime thriller, one laced with humour and hefty dollops of satire. However what makes the book stand out is the author’s understanding of his three leads, their aims and motivations, filled in piecemeal as Brookmyre lays out the back story. Simon is the ultimate poor sad wannabe, made bitter and twisted by failure, hungering for recognition even if only as a murdering psychopath, blaming everyone except himself when things go wrong. Contrast that with Ray, outwardly a failure, the paradigm of male doubt, a bundle of neuroses and unfulfilled longing, but muddling through the best that he can and trying to do what’s right by everybody, thus acquiring a dignity and worth forever beyond simple Simon, no matter how many innocent people he blows up. And then there’s Angel X, the gorgeous Angelique de Xavia, the most redoubtable female super-agent since Modesty Blaise last slipped a pistol in her stocking top, a karate black belt and the scourge of bullies everywhere, a straight talker who shoots from the hip. Confronted by psychobabble about the motivation of the Black Spirit Angel X cuts to the quick with, ‘He’s a wanker!’ If you want she can be more precise, ‘He’s a big wanker!’ More insightful, more truthful, and definitely a lot more fun than a hundred TV documentaries about Osama Bed Linen.